Welcome to Seven-Day Listen, in which we listen to one album every day for a week straight to see what we may find. This week: Amy Dittmeier considers Dashboard Confessional’s Swiss Army Romance.
Dashboard Confessional is the band most people think of when they bring up the emo movement of the 90s. Chris Carrabba’s sad falsetto lyrics and pained screams defined many teenagers’ lives, mine included. Listening to Swiss Army Romance takes you back to that time where the problems of high school were the biggest obstacles in your life. Looking back, those were pittances of what our problems would later become. But, as a friend said in our discussion of the greatness of Dashboard today, it’s a reminder of a specific point in time in our lives that is still nice to revisit. It’s the same reason I still listen to Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, Saves the Day, etc. Though I’ve thrown away my Hot Topic t-shirts for the more age-appropriate v-neck, albums like Swiss Army Romance have always remained in my collection as a memory palace of my teen years.
The version of “Screaming Infidelities,” the song that most people attribute with their musical image of Dashboard Confessional, is way better on Swiss Army Romance than the version on The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most. This version, and the whole album in fact, is unpolished and very minimal. Most of the songs are just Carrabba, his acoustic guitar, and second guitarist James Paul Wisner strumming away. You can hear when he hits the strings a little wonky, every pluck, every strum, which breaks this whole production wall that they put up on later albums. “Screaming Infidelities” is still juvenile in it’s subject matter, but eloquently written and executed on Swiss Army Romance. It’s still in my opinion on of the best break-up songs out there. When you go through a break-up, you don’t want a T.S. Eliot epic about it – you want lines like “But as for me, I wish that I was anywhere with anyone making out.” Not the most poetic line, but it sums up everything I’ve felt in my post-break up “I hate that smug bastard” phase of heartbreak.
Some of these lyrics seem a little creepy now that I’m listening to them at 25. One that really stood out was a line from “Living in Your Letters,” a sweet song about missing somebody. The line goes:
Pouring over photographs/I’m living in your letters/Breathe deeply from this envelope/It smells like you
Ok first off, who huffs an envelope? Usually when I receive a letter, which is a rarity in the 21st century, the first thing I do is throw away the envelope. In this song Carrabba is insinuating he keeps them and smells them to remember the girl he misses. Secondly, if this is the same girl he talks about in “Plain Morning,” she’s spraying her perfume on her letters, which I’m sure would help any lonely man remember his far-flung love. But come on Carrabba, is this the 40s? Do women still do that? This a line I would’ve eaten up in high school, pining over some guy that hung out at the bad kid lunch table that I yearned to pass notes to. But now it’s more than a little lost on me.
Listening to “Age Six Racer,” I wonder who I have to thank for discovering this album. I’m pretty sure it was mp3.com (do you remember when that site was cool) or MySpace. There’s something to be said about the days when you trusted a random download or an Amazon recommendation more than a blogger. I think if Carrabba tried to make Swiss Army Romance now it would get lost in the Pitchfork shuffle, it’s soft but fervent acoustic jams barely tipping a 4 on their scale. I miss this open passion in music – when musicians made the type of music they wanted to make without fear of what was popular or what the critics thought of it (The Academy Is’ song “Black Mamba” sums up the latter fear the best). That’s part of the reason I lost interest in Dashboard Confessional in their later years. We could never get back to the simplicity and earnestness of Swiss Army.
My boyfriend and I are driving to Madison, and we decided to both bring a CD from our high school days. I brought Swiss Army Romance. My boyfriend brought this crazy metal band that had a picture of a Viking and a sexy slave woman with a dragon on the cover. We got maybe 3 songs into each album before we vetoed each other’s choices, and settled on listening to Incubus’ Make Yourself. It’s weird to think that this person that I’m madly in love with had a different musical experience that I did in high school, but we’re still compatible. When I was listening to emo pop bands, he was listening to odes to fantasy literature sung over double bass pedals. True. Love. Prevails.
Things I’ve done that complement Swiss Army Romance: laid on the couch hung over and contemplated drilling a hole into my skull to alleviate a pounding headache, took a quiet ride on the Brown Line and look at the burgeoning greenery of Chicago, had a 90s dance party to other super sweet bands I liked in high school, sat at work and giggled quietly because only I know how cool I am for listening to this.
Things I’ve done that don’t complement Swiss Army Romance: stood on the train during rush hour (because all the suits are totally judging me), flipped through my high school year book (this album is enough teen nostalgia), told my metal friend I’m listening to Swiss Army Romance (it only led to a 15 minute rant of my music collection), sang along to “Screaming Infidelities” in my neighborhood (all the moms thought I was a total creeper).
This is my last day with Swiss Army Romance, and I feel like I’m saying goodbye to an old friend. Carrabba will no longer be crooning into my ear, singing secret sentiments as I walk around this fair city. Because of him I’ve gone on a rampage through my iTunes collection and added a couple of my other high school favorites to my iPod. We shared a couple of laughs together, remembered some lost loves, broke out our guitars and tried to play some songs together (ok well I did, and poorly). But in some way I’m glad to say goodbye. The memories have been nice, and I will revisit them in the future, but I must move on to my new love affair with synthesizers and indie hip hop as this weather warms up. But please remember Swiss Army Romance, you will always have a special place in my heart.