Other musicians have rounded out its lineup from time to time, but Dashboard Confessional has always been the brainchild of Chris Carrabba, the most sensitive raven-haired rocker this side of Morrissey. Like Morrissey, Carrabba has built a career upon heartbreak; unlike Morrissey, he's never had a band as a strong as the Smiths to give his songs the right amount of lush, electric kick. As a result, Dashboard Confessional's best moments usually occur whenever Carrabba consolidates his strengths and functions as solo musician, from the more intimate moments of his MTV Unplugged performance to acoustic-based albums like The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most and The Shade of Poison Trees. 2009's Alter the Ending finds him reprising his role as frontman, though, yielding a track list that includes some fine songs but couches them in uninspired arrangements. It's testament to Carrabba's songwriting that these tunes fare far better on the bonus disc (available as part of the album's deluxe package), where they're played on acoustic instruments. Add a three-piece band to the mix, however, and you're left with hooks that suddenly feel clichéd, lyrics that try too hard to evoke a sense of teenaged abandon ("We lit the van with dreams after the sun burned into cinders"), and electric guitars that lack the trebly energy of their acoustic counterparts. Returning fans may take comfort in these cathartic anthems, but those who were won over by Poison Trees -- a return-to-form effort that combined melody with more nuanced arrangements -- will prefer the deluxe edition's acoustic disc.
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AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey