I'd Like to Pick a Fight With the Critics Again

Dashboard Confessional may have helped define a genre (emo, to be exact), but I've never been hip to frontman Chris Carrabba's brand of meandering soul-baring—except for "Hands Down," a punchy teen love song. (I mean, his albums have titles like "Swiss Army Romance" and "A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar," for Christ's sake.)

His latest, The Shade of Poison Trees (I know, right?!), is full of the same old break-up album excesses, but surprisingly also boasts inviting hooks and lovely melodies, things that have mostly been absent for me when surveying Carrabba's work. His newest effort is in my playlist.

So I was a bit taken aback when Entertainment Weekly wrote:

It's disconcerting that after four albums, emo's dewy poster boy, Chris Carrabba (a.k.a. Dashboard Confessional), now 32, is still agape at the Medusa-like proportions of the women in his life, and beholden to the dimensions of his navel. The Shade of Poison Trees, Carrabba's purported back-to-his-roots album (''redeem-o,'' anyone?), offers little evidence that he's matured along with his audience.

This review bothers me for several reasons. Do we really measure the greatness of an artist by his ability to "mature?" And, for a rock musician, what does "maturing with his audience" really mean anyway? As a matter a fact, how does any artist define "growth" and is "growth" overrated?

There are some artists whose careers are all about redefining themselves over and over again (Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, and David Bowie come to mind). There are some artists who stuck to what they did best for as long as they could before branching out into more "adventurous" territory (The Beatles, The Beach Boys, etc.). And there are some artists who are great for simply producing the same kind of work on a consistent basis and demonstrating a dedication to their craft (Phil Ochs, Tom Petty, MxPx, etc.)

Although I've always been a champion of artists attempting new things, taking risks, and redefining themselves, I don't invalidate artists who stay within certain artistic boundaries to hone their vision and refine their craft—simply getting better at what you do best is in itself an incredible achievement (Shakespeare! Tennessee Williams! August Wilson!). (And, for the love of God, Carrabba is only thirty fucking two!)

...The following clip for "Thick as Thieves" (off of The Shade of Poison Trees—I know, right?!) is an amazing, jaw-dropping, one-take music video (involving card tricks!) that won a fan contest:

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