Dashboard Confessional - The Shade Of Poison Trees

Mike Jennings 03/11/2007

Rating: 3/5

Dashboard Confessional don't like rich people. The first track of their emo-tastic new album, “The Shade of Poison Trees”, mockingly speaks of 'upper crust tragedies' and is titled “When There's Gold...”, and an entire song is later devoted to the issue of money, power and inheritance. The rest of the album, thankfully, is deeper than this: a journey through a young mind that contains enough earnest honesty to make up for the lack of musical depth throughout.

Chris Carrabba's solo project turned established act have shied away from the pop-rock distorted guitars of their previous lyrics to return to a more acoustic-driven style that emphasises the lyrical content of the songs as opposed to their tuneful, catchy riffs and melodies. It's a shame, then, that it's not really worked.

The songs revolve around personal relationships and emotional conflict - as you'd expect for a band that are relentlessly labelled 'emo' and adored by fans in skinny jeans. Metaphor is used well throughout, too, with “Little Bombs” likening friendship difficulties to weaponry and “I Light My Own Fires Now” using incendiary tactics to light up a song about leaving home and making your own place in the world.

Musically, it's an album that relaxes in the niche that Dashboard carved for themselves on their earlier releases. The aforementioned grandeur of poppy, catchy tunes backed up with overdriven chords has been dropped, with the new record sounding more like an acoustic duo: bassist Scott Schoenbeck and drummer Mike Marsh often sound limited and muted as they're only required to provide generic filler whereas, on a fuller-sounding release, could play more of a part in the proceedings.

First single “Thick as Thieves” is catchy enough to have propelled “The Shade of Poison Trees” to the top of the Independent charts on the other side of the Atlantic, chiefly thanks to the intelligent vocal and clean tones of the jangled guitar appealing to the undoubtedly huge Dashboard Confessional fanbase. It'd also be a crime if “Matters of Blood and Connection” and “These Bones” didn't become later singles as they're songs that deserve to be heard - and songs that will sell albums.

This is a record that will, no doubt, please long-time fans of Dashboard Confessional who yearned for a returned to their old style after the last album's departure towards a grander, more expansive sound. It'll also hook new fans in thanks to the well-worn mix of intelligent, sarcastic vocals and catchy guitar to back it up, despite the music being shallow in parts, existing with more guitar and vocal than anything else.

It's just a shame that there wasn't as much innovation as there could have been on “The Shade of Poison Trees” - this Florida band could have taken the success of their last album and used it as a springboard to a more experimental and all-embracing modern sound. Instead they're seemingly content to sit back and do what they know which, admittedly, they do very well. Fans will like it - but new listeners may be underwhelmed.