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Waterparks are not a pop-punk band.
The above is a statement that’s been echoed strongly by the band’s frontman Awsten Knight (yes, that’s how you spell his name, now leave him alone) many times before. Sure, they have pop and punk and “pop-punk” influences in their music but when I think about the current zeitgeist of pop-punk bands – Neck Deep, State Champs, The Story So Far and others akin to them – Waterparks just don’t really fit that bill. To use their new album, ‘Entertainment’, as a good example, none of the bands mentioned above would be caught dead with more-pop-than-punk melodies, 808’s, synth pads and chirpy guitar plucks as a dominant force in their music. Not to the extent that Waterparks does.
The opening song ’11:11’ begins with some chimey as fuck keys before it launches into what most would consider a pop-punk song. Yet those keys and other electro, synthetic elements are inescapable for the remainder of the track. Just like that one time you hit something late at night on a back road drive but never once went back to check what exactly it was, these traditional pop aspects are always lingering in the background of the piece. ‘Peach (Lobotomy)’ however takes the pop-route slightly differently and feels more like ‘Summer Paradise’ by Simple Plan than anything else. It’s cheerful and laid back, with a brightly lit acoustic guitar strumming along throughout yet during the chorus some of those traditional punchier synths make an appearance to remind you once more that Waterparks are not a pop-punk band.
‘We Need To Talk’, ‘Not Warriors’ and ‘Crybaby’ also lean heavily into the pop side of Waterparks‘ sound. They throw caution to win, utilising 808 drum parts and all manner of synths wherever they possibly can. But is it good is the question you’re probably wondering, right? Well… yes and no. Now, I’m someone who absolutely adores pop-music. Like, seriously fucking adores it. And not just “good” pop but even the deeply cheesy pop that what some might consider “utter trashy shit” like The Chainsmokers and Miranda Cosgrove (that’s the chick from iCarly FYI). So my barometer for pop is pretty fucking low as it is and even I had serious trouble getting into some of the material here.
‘Crybaby’ and ‘Not Warriors’ are just so sleek and cookie cutter in their pop tendencies that it’s almost too much. In the context of the record, it doesn’t sit right and it feels out of place. The former track falls into the weakest three minutes of the entire record and sounds more of an experiment one might do to dip their toes deeper into this style rather than something to actually put out on a sophomore album of all things. The latter does move more into a rockier territory as it goes along and that’s where it gets deliciously good but those synth keys and electronic pulses just never let up except in the middle eight and it irks an otherwise killer song, sadly.
Maybe we can chalk it up to band’s inexperience (they’re still young, both in age and their band’s lifespan) but the pop elements here just feel underdeveloped and not at all well thought out. It really sounds like all of those times that your favourite band tried to go pop and didn’t get there because they misguidedly think they fully understand pop when they just simply don’t. Not looking at anyone in particular…
On the total and utter opposite, ‘TANTRUM’ feels like something we might see out from Falling In Reverse minus Ronnie Radke’s deep growls and I tell you what, it’s a fantastic song! It’s angry as fuck with the heaviest riffs on the record and some really well-performed screams from Mr Knight himself. Though when you sit down and listen to the whole album it feels… not quite right. It’s a track and album you really have to hear to fully understand what I’m talking about though, as it sits right before ‘Crybaby’ and after ‘Rare’ on the tracklisting, and it belongs about as well as three kids stacked atop one another in a trench coat do at a seedy bar; not to diminish the song at all on its own merit.
Tracks like ‘Blonde’ and ‘Rare’ are far more classic pop-punk in their structure, arrangement and overall vibe and I hate to say it but they are the best songs on the record. I’m sorry Awsten, I know that you and I talked about this last year but goddamnit dude, your pop-punk songs are the best one’s here! Overall, the latter is my favourite track on ‘Entertainment’ with its huge choruses, beautiful bridge section and mouth-watering vocal melodies. ‘We Need To Talk’, though it uses 808’s as much as Kanye West did when he had his heart broken, you could replace them with live drums and it’d still go just the same. Which is to say that it’s a beautiful and relaxed yet driving track; it just has some rather needless mechanical and lifeless beats housed within it.
Look, there is a lot to love here. There’s also a lot to not like or enjoy here too. The sole pop side of things on ‘Entertainment’ sounds underdeveloped and at the same time over-inspired, in that rather than checking things back and seeing if it works well, Waterparks just kept it all going. It just doesn’t grab you in the same solid way that other, rockier/punk parts of ‘Entertainment’ do with their huge melodies, massive riffs, uplifting arrangements and killer vocal hooks that aren’t drenched in vocoder or flanger. Like I said, there’s a lot to love; it just sucks it’s all the parts Waterparks themselves don’t fully want to become as a collective. ‘Entertainment’ is a decent record but one that’s held back by a need to be different rather than a need to just be good.
We Need To Talk
‘Entertainment’ is out January 26th through Equal Vision Records.