Who would’ve thought the lyric from “Saints and Sailors” of, “Wandering this house, like I’ve never wanted out / And this is about as social as I get now” would take on new meaning during these strange times? But alas, we’ve come to the 20 year anniversary of the breakthrough emo classic record by Chris Carrabba, better known for his affectionately titled project Dashboard Confessional. Flashing back to this time period brings back a flood of memories of bands just waiting to explode onto the mainstream. What gets lost among the shuffle of the bad haircuts, skinny jeans, and ultra-tight t-shirts is the fact that the music coming out of this time period has stayed the test of time. Dashboard Confessional was not the loudest band out there, not the flashiest, but damn if Chris Carrabba couldn’t write a hook that would stay in your mind for days on end. The mostly acoustic guitar-based project was a tough sell initially since most touring bands didn’t know how to properly market a solo singer-songwriter in this scene. However, Chris consistently won over crowds night after night and it was clear that Dashboard Confessional was immediately going to be the marquee band that others would have to open for.
What Chris was able to do in Dashboard Confessional was to cut the core of what emo music was all about: making a lasting connection with fans, and personalizing the teenage angst into a memorable package. There’s plenty of moments on this record that you can easily pinpoint to an important moment in time when you knew this band was onto something remarkable. From the opening single of “Screaming Infidelities” where Chris casually strummed on his acoustic guitar a ballad of young love and the things he missed most about this person; he made every hook feel like he was singing out just for that person on the other end of the speakers. Lyrics such as, “As for now I’m gonna hear the saddest songs / And sit alone and wonder / How you’re making out / But as for me, I wish that I was anywhere with anyone, making out,” begin to tell a story of a heartbroken hero looking for his own voice in the music scene.
The album is filled with plenty of vulnerable moments and “heart on his sleeve” lyrics in songs demanding an audience sing-a-longs in “The Best Deceptions” and “The Good Fight.” It’s almost as if Chris Carrabba knew he was onto something amazing as he was writing this album, and you can likely pin the moment emo finally broke through the mainstream in the legendary MTV Unplugged series. In that set of songs, Chris had the audience hanging on his every word and they were happy to be his backing chorus to allow for his songs to hit their intended heights.
”Again I Go Unnoticed” is another moment in time that felt like the backing band was there to only amplify Carrabba’s words to make sure they hit their target. The sped-up track allows for the record to not drift too far from just a bunch of slow acoustic songs, and keeps the interest of the audience throughout the album. Chris sings confidently on the second verse, “Please tell me you’re just feeling tired / Cause if it’s more than that I feel that I might break / Out of touch, out of time / Please send me anything but signals that are mixed / Cause I can’t read your rolling eyes / Out of touch, are we out of time?” It’s hard to not hear the passion and conviction in his words every time he opens up his soul for all to see.
The title track is another moment where the slow-build opening eventually crescendos to the passionate repeated chorus of “Well this is one time, well this is one time / That you can’t fake it hard enough to please everyone / Or anyone at all…or anyone at all / And the grave that you refuse to leave / The refuge that you’ve built to flee / The places that you’ve come to fear the most / Is the place that you have come to fear the most.” When Carrabba goes into his higher register his passion for his music is felt far and wide.
”This Bitter Pill” is an interesting way to close out an album that is filled with glimmers of hope, as Carrabba turns the vibe on its head with lyrics like, “Walking away, it’s not the same as running / Is it to you now that you’ve run in this ground / And you say take this / This medicine is just what you deserve / Swallow, choke, and die.” This song clearly came from a dark place in his life, and Carrabba even mentioned in past interviews that he rarely includes in his live sets due to brooding nature and feel of the track. The heartache he feels during these last lines in the song make us feel for the heartbroken emo hero and makes us only want to root more for his success in finding the person that will turn his life around for the better.
This record will always be an important marker in the timeline of trademark emo albums that people will look back on to see when this scene was at its height. Because of The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most Chris Carrabba is likely one of the first names that comes to mind when people mention emo music, and almost always the first major songwriter named when writers look to the person who best personified carrying the mantle of this genre of music. This album changed the game in many ways, and when I look back on this collection of ten heartfelt songs I always feel a warm sense of comfort in knowing that there were others going through similar things as me during the same time period in my life. The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most personified a genre, started a scene, and left the audience clamoring for more. I don’t know about fearing these places, but this will be the one record that will continue to be the most adored by so many for years to come.