Dashboard Confessional, 'Alter the Ending' (Vagrant/Interscope)

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by Mikael Wood

All Chris Carrabba's albums as heartthrob-in-chief of Dashboard Confessional have been about tension, primarily romantic: He can't help comparing his current love to the idealized version in his pretty little head. But an aesthetic battle also rages within Carrabba, one pitting Dashboard's solo-acoustic roots against the frontman's desire to move arenas with the intensity of his emotion. After making a pair of big-budget rock records with A-list producers Gil Norton and Daniel Lanois, Carrabba stripped down for 2007's The Shade of Poison Trees, which successfully convinced early-decade Dashboard fans that he hadn't left the campfire forever.

On the band's latest album, Carrabba plays it both ways. Produced by power-pop whiz Butch Walker and Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger, Alter the Ending contains no shortage of high-gloss thrills: In "Blame It on the Changes," tolling church bells underscore the regretful lyric, while the jangly "I Know About You" might be the best song the Gin Blossoms never recorded; later, "The Motions" opens with a synth trill straight out of "Stacy's Mom."

Yet there are also plenty of folky, intimate moments here, such as "Hell on the Throat" and "Even Now," the latter of which openly echoes Dashboard's signature tune, "Screaming Infidelities." (Carrabba even revisits the intoxicating smell of laundry.) Which Chris represents the real deal? He's still not sure himself.

LISTEN: Dashboard Confessional, "Belle of the Boulevard"

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