I have seen the singing masses.

I have seen the 16-year-olds crowd into clubs and stretch their wiry bracelet-wrapped arms toward Dashboard Confessional leader Chris Carrabba. I have heard them sing, loudly and clearly, every word of his songs. I've seen them cry. I've read the New York Times claim that Dashboard's latest "may become the year's most important rock record."

And I still don't get it.

For those in the dark, Dashboard Confessional's melodramatic "emo" is the medicine of choice for legions of teens. They listen to the singer's every word intently. They dissect the songs on message boards and online diaries.

I want to understand it. So I grabbed Dashboard's 2001 release The Places You Have Come To Fear the Most and its latest, A Mark A Mission A Brand A Scar (both on Vagrant Records) and tried one more time.

The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most

"So this is odd, the painful realization that all has gone wrong...." And so The Places begins. In song after song, Carrabba spikes his acoustic alternapop with anger, sadness, cynicism and a hatred for seemingly every woman with whom he has ever come in contact. There is no light, no hope, nothing.

When I was 16, I would lock myself in my room and listen to "Taillights Fade" by Buffalo Tom over and over, and pine over a girl. I didn't have an online community of friends to discuss lyrics and life. I never went to a Buffalo Tom show and sang along with everyone else. Self-pity was an ugly thing that I never wanted to share with anyone else. Now Dashboard has created a church of self-pity.

A Mark A Mission A Brand A Scar

"Breathe in for luck, breathe in so deep/ this air is blessed, you share with me...." And so A Mark begins. Apparently Carrabba has found love, or at least the beginnings of it. And he has also found the electric guitar, essentially abandoning his acoustic bedroom sound.

Will the kids still sing along with him if his songs are less painful, and if the electric drowns out the crowd's shared ache? A part of me hopes they don't sing along, that they abandon their message boards, walk out of that church and find answers on their own. But another part of me knows that if I could have sung songs that spoke to my 16-year-old pains with my peers, I wouldn't have walked away.

Dashboard Confessional plays with MXPX, Brand New and Vendetta Red Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Salem Armory Auditorium, 2320 17th St. NE, Salem, 503-378-6923. 6 pm. $20 advance. All ages.