Artwork for Waterparks’ ‘INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY’ - a blue tree frog on a red background

Be honest—is there much of a draw for a new Waterparks album anymore? They’ve become one of those bands who aren’t necessarily bad, but inspire little more than apathy due to the volume of music they’ve put out, and the wild inconsistency of it all. Gone are the days when you could reasonably argue that Waterparks were a smart, fresh take on pop-rock, as seen on their EP Crave or album Double Dare. Instead, after many albums that time has only fragmented and atomised even further—even their better ones—Waterparks treading the boards as TikTok-friendly alt-poppers has revealed how unimpactful in the long term they can be.

Still though, one of the things that pops out on INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY rather sharpish is how it benefits from tempered expectations. It’s a Waterparks album to be sure, saturated with all the technicolour flashbangs and on-a-dime quirks that they’ve come to embody, but at least you know it’s all coming. There’s no anticipated about-turn into greatness to make them fall all the flatter; that doesn’t sound very complimentary at all—in other words, the best way to go into this album is expecting the worst—but whatever gets the best results, right?

And even then, compared to the mounds of abject filler that’s accumulated within Waterparks’ discography, just on its own, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY is nothing close to the worst. It has the moments which get the closest to putting them back on their original path that they’ve delivered in a long time, like FUNERAL GREY or SELF-SABOTAGE that are firmly rooted in chirpy pop-rock doused densely in compression and whizzing colour. It’s reached a stage where moaning about any over-production in Waterparks’ music is not even acknowledging the point, let alone missing it. They’re always going to be garish and gaudy, and shameless about excessive AutoTune and blocky after-effects, but as long as it feels workable with what they’re doing, it can generally be accepted.

What’s less so is how the hyperactive approach to the simple practice of making sound feels as though it has to be dialled to the max at every stage. Thus, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY acts as another dive into Waterparks’ stylistic grab-bag that’s gotten no less deep or plentiful, much to the chagrin of anyone who’d rather they do what they do best with any sort of uniformity. And while it’s not a bad thing in itself, a lot of this can really by marred by an intangible quality of ideas thrown together for one swipe into the unknown, and to never be revisited. Or at least built on sufficiently, to not just feel like shallow pastiches where integration into the core formula is an afterthought. That sort of super-focused attention on what’s popular right this second has always been present among Waterparks’ work, but as they’ve gone on, that practice has morphed more into latching onto disparate TikTok moments to see what they can do with them (see the disjointed stab at jittery post-punk on END OF THE WATER (FEEL)).

Now, there’s nothing to say that couldn’t work on paper; it’s just Waterparks spread themselves way too thinly to get there. Just take RITUAL for instance, a marriage of present-day Bring Me The Horizon with Awsten Knight trying to sound like Corpse in his vocal style and register, all of which is a far cry from basically anything else here. Meanwhile, FUCK ABOUT IT has blackbear’s grubby little fingerprints all over it even outside of his verse, when it’s anchored in emo-pop-trap sulking and the title line, “We can fuck about it later if you want”. Moments like that infer that Waterparks have no clue about what they actually want to be. By no means are they the only band to play fast-and-loose with nominal pop-rock or alt-pop branding, but it wouldn’t kill them to not reshape and rebuild themselves on a song-by-song basis either.

What really sinks things like that is how they don’t play to Waterparks’ most clearly telegraphed strengths. This is a band that have found their greatest successes by narrowly towing the line of pop-rock and the most sugary, overworked pop imaginable. It’s why a song like ST*RFUCKER does actually stick the landing in its particular wild veering, this time embracing the gloss and alt-dance flavour of The Wombats and folding it into a hyperpop-rock package that makes sense for this band. That’s the kind of pitch that Waterparks can deliver on most—when they’re so flagrantly aware of how much space produced pop takes up, and can embrace it accordingly. For as irritating as BEST FRIENDS is in its gated little guitar and whistling synths that come across like a Vampire Weekend send-up, it’s also got the kind of irascible earworm chorus that Waterparks could bankroll TikTok presence off for a seriously long time to come.

And at the end of the day…this is Waterparks we’re talking about, a band that no one of sane mind comes to under any preconceptions of depth or tremendous import. They make two Kim Possible references over two consecutive tracks, and it’s the same line referenced both times! That is Waterparks in a nutshell, and it’s no surprise that INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY is best when that’s played up to its extreme (as is customary for a band for whom subtlety is a foreign concept). Knight is by far his most endearing in his character of a smitten, over-his-head loser, such as on FUNERAL GREY and SELF-SABOTAGE where the peek under the iron curtain of artifice is all it takes to click.

Overall though, it’s difficult to say where exactly INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY lands on the haphazard map of Waterparks’ output. It’s probably a lateral move with everything taken into account, but who can really say at this stage? Inertia is not to be ruled out with regards to why Waterparks have lasted as long as they have, especially when they keep overplaying their hand and making out-of-nowhere decisions that don’t seem to benefit them. If nothing else, the good songs—and the ones that feel as though they belong to this band—are in higher supply, and coupled with the footprint they’ve left that makes this less severe of a left turn, it’s something. It’s still not great, but whether Waterparks are ever going to get back there is a very open question. It might just be better to settle for something like this.

For fans of: Stand Atlantic, Point North, Grayscale

‘INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY’ by Waterparks is released on 14th April on Fueled By Ramen.

Words by Luke Nuttall

One thought

  1. i feel like you just confirmed my hunches to me about the album tbh sad to see some of the excitement from the greatest hits review turn into settling

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