As more time has passed and their body of work has expanded, it’s become easier to see where Waterparks fall in the greater pop-rock picture, and how surprisingly far out of the inner circle they might be. They get the usual glowing coverage of their peers, but there’s definitely a different vibe to them than just another band going through the motions and dishing out the same safe press cycles. Their own agnosticism for sticking to a record label is definitely telling, but leverage social media and especially TikTok in the way they have is far more representative of DIY bedroom-pop than a band with the full force of the industry machine behind it. And looking at it from a particular angle, that’s a good thing, given that Waterparks have always been a bit more of a unique and undefinable beast within pop-rock, both for better and for worse. Their own ambitions have had a tendency to be uneven to no end, and it’s shown profusely in the wider scope of their material; Cluster is still great and Double Dare has a lot of standout moments even after cooling over time, but Entertainment slips further and further back all the time and Fandom, though appreciating in value somewhat, still isn’t a wholly terrific listen. But perhaps most crucially away from all of that, the impression that Greatest Hits gives off on the surface is that Waterparks finally understand where they’re best suited to succeeding. The title alone screams that, but aligning themselves with a younger, more online-driven alt-pop scene that’ll be a lot more receptive to their particular sound feels like a winning formula, if only based on what they’ve done before.
As such, it’s worth viewing this album from a slightly different lens than has been used for their others. Rather than attempting to bend Waterparks to fit within the narrative of pop-rock, they themselves have made that job more difficult than even on Greatest Hits, and it’s definitely to their advantage. They’ve opened up a lot here, with their boundaries being the widest and most flexible they’ve ever been, but that also yields a higher overall grade of quality, simply through the ability to cover more ground. For the first time in a long time, Waterparks feel like more than just a singles band; as an album, it’s still flabby and inconsistent, but there’s a sparkle to Greatest Hits that’s more creatively robust, and makes for a more engaging end product. It’s probably their best full-length since their debut, truth be told, in that it gives off the air of a re-energised band in a lane that’s most beneficial and equitable for them.
That’s noteworthy for how this isn’t precisely a reinvention of what Waterparks have been doing up to now, but more of an extension of the pre-existing template into something a bit fresher and bolder. The chunky, compressed guitars remain but they aren’t as dominant as they once were, instead opening out to allow a surprisingly supple bass presence in, and, more prominently, a wide range of styles that find Waterparks looking to shake off the pop-rock shackles as resolutely as they can. There are definitely bridges between the two ends, in the poppier glisten of Violet! and the darting sugar-rushes of Fuzzy and American Graffiti, but the extent to which Greatest Hits will follow its own stylistic arrow far away from what might be expected of it is its most ear-catching element. They’re odd little twists in the chilly tones of Snow Globe and The Secret Life Of Me (the latter with a rattling tempo that meshes with its sound for something almost reminiscent of Porter Robinson in places), the exhaling modern pop of Fruit Roll Ups and Crying All Over It, and what feels like a borderline glance towards hyperpop on Magnetic in how it deliberately clashes and spikes off haphazardly. There’s a lot of strange, often unforeseen decisions that come to pass, and naturally across seventeen tracks, they don’t all pay off; Gladiator effectively feels like a proof of concept for a far better bass-driven groove, and as a darker reprise of the opening title track, Ice Bath doesn’t really need to be here. There’s definitely something of an opportunistic streak strewn throughout here as well, given how the album as a whole plays like a scroll through TikTok and the weird musical rabbit holes it’ll throw up, of which Waterparks have pretty much sought to recreate in their own image here. But it’s not like it doesn’t work, or it’s so far out of their typical catchment that it’s jarring. For the impression that Waterparks gave when they first came onto the scene, as a pop-rock / alt-pop band caked in effects and AutoTune that really didn’t fit in with the company they were put up against, nothing has really changed here. All that they’ve done is recalibrated their original intentions into something that works a lot more seamlessly, at least in pieces, and when that comes through on Fuzzy or Numb, or even on their semi-regular dalliances with more assertive punk on LIKE IT and See You In The Future, the work does pay off. The production is still a bit blaring at times, but elsewhere, there’s a surprisingly decent amount of modulation and restraint in play, which might highlight the slight unevenness across the board, but never in such a way to weigh things down as had been the case previously.
Maybe even more than that though, Greatest Hits feels like one of the most consistent platforms yet to justify Awsten Knight as a songwriter who’s far smarter and more insightful than he’s given credit. It’s often striking how the writing on Waterparks songs will contrast the persona that they give off, particularly online, but Greatest Hits brings together an impressively tight confluence of that sardonic, borderline ironic approach to mass appeal with Knight’s frequently neurotic lyrical style. When that’s exacerbated by lockdowns and the self-imposed need to feed into the instant gratification culture of a modern public figure, there’s a desperation across Greatest Hits that has a lot of power to it, where the details and colour of Knight’s writing really puts in the work. He’ll whittle down the plight of his reluctant celebrity status to “Drake problems” and “a Britney moment”, the sort of tongue-in-cheek references that are definitely in his wheelhouse, but highlighting just how much gravity there is in that thought process on a song like Just Kidding. There’ll be moments of solace that pierce through his own locked mind, be that from others or from brief moments of escapism within the same four walls, but Greatest Hits is arguably the most comfortable dissection of his own status that Knight has delivered to date. It gives his motor-mouthed delivery in places a reason to really fall into place, and it hits so many moments where each side coalesces so effectively, ultimately finding its peak in the interview snippets that bookend LIKE IT where, for as often as Knight will lay himself bare on record for all to see, the outsider view still ends up falling on the colour of his hair.
That’s where the beauty of Greatest Hits lies – for as bloated as it still might be, and for as regularly as some of the shoddy Waterparks-isms will crop up, this is a far better approximation of their particular approach than they’ve delivered in years. They feel a lot more comfortable with what they’re doing now, and that shows in songs that feel more natural and fleshed-out, and a lyrical sentiment that holds a lot faster more often and with greater force. That’s an important point for Waterparks to reach when they’ve been so inconsistent recently, and the fact they’ve reached a place that’s almost uniformly solid in its vision is well worth getting behind, especially when those ideas feel as though they could be as exciting as the band have always threatened to be. It’s not always materialising across the board, but it does so more often enough to make for a significant improvement, something that was really needed for Waterparks at this point. It feels as though they’re not only finally back on track, but that the best and most exciting times may be yet to come.
For fans of: Fall Out Boy, Stand Atlantic, I Don’t Know How But They Found Me
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Greatest Hits’ by Waterparks is out now on 300 Entertainment.