Review: Genre is Fake, Cringe Culture is Dead, I Love Waterparks, and “Greatest Hits” is Brilliant
No matter how much I get made fun of for it, Waterparks will always be a band that holds a special place in my heart. Listening to 2016’s “Cluster” EP and debut LP “Double Dare” is a huge reason why I got into pop-punk and alternative music when I did, and I still consider both of those releases to be flawless, front to back.
The band’s 2017 tour with Chapel and As It Is was one of my first general admission concert experiences, and I still remember staying up till midnight to listen to “Entertainment” on release day in 2018. Waterparks has been one of the biggest constants in my life throughout my high school years, serving as the soundtrack to some of my most memorable moments; “21 Questions” off of “Double Dare” was my most streamed song on Spotify for literal years, all because I streamed it over 100 times in one day back in my freshman year.
Admittedly, I didn’t love the band’s third record “Fandom” as much as everyone else seemed to. Certain songs felt like fillers meant to bolster the tracklist, while others just felt bland to me. I go back to tracks like “Telephone”, “Watch What Happens Next”, “Turbulent”, and “Never Bloom Again” pretty often, and I consider “I Felt Younger When We Met” to be one of the band’s best moments to date, but a lot of this record just didn’t hit me the way I thought it would.
The conclusion that I came to around the time that “Fandom” was released back in 2019 was that Waterparks just didn’t make music for the fans who started listening to them when I did anymore - they had moved on, their sound had changed, and they had a new demographic to cater to now, a group who loved songs like “Group Chat” and “I Miss Having Sex But At Least I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore” and didn’t shake their head at them. Having so many bands that I felt grew up with me throughout my formative years, I was a little upset when I felt like Waterparks and I had left each other behind.
This brings me to the album that they released this weekend; I’ve still kept up with Waterparks on social media over the past couple of years, so when they announced that their fourth(!!!) record would have a title as tongue-in-cheek as “Greatest Hits”, I was worried. While I wasn’t crazy about lead single “Lowkey As Hell”, I was beyond pleasantly surprised and impressed by the follow-up track “Snow Globe.”
My excitement for this album grew with each single that was released, and after listening to it in full a few times, I’m happy to share that I will be returning to calling Waterparks the best band in the world. That’s it, that’s the whole review, see you next time.
Kidding, I promise, this will be a full review, but I truly believe that “Greatest Hits” is a return to form for this band. They’ve completely revamped their sound, combining classic pop-punk and indie with chaotic electronic influences. Their lyrical content has followed suit, with vocalist Awsten Knight staying just as honest and clever as he has been for the past almost decade, but there’s something more mature about how he says what he’s saying now. In short, this record is everything a fan of this band could have hoped for, no matter when you started listening to them.
There’s an almost cinematic or theatrical feeling about “Greatest Hits”, and it shines through immediately on the opening titular track. Beginning with ambient noise and the sound of a clock ticking 15 times for their last album’s 15 tracks (last heard on the opening and closing tracks of “Fandom”), the transition from fleeting sounds to bombastic instrumentals and intense vocals is jarring in the best possible way.
Knight has described this album as the night of the day that is played out in “Fandom”, with each of the record’s songs representing something that happens over the course of a night. The eerie repeated lyric of “Last night I had the strangest dream of all” is accompanied by a robotic voice, speaking the haunting phrases “Nothing will ever be the same”, “The world is yours if you want it”, and “Take this time you have”, before the background noise cuts out and a final line is spoken: “These are your greatest hits.”
In a word, it’s epic. It feels like the moment in a movie where the title of the film is said, and the opening credits roll through. This track does an incredible job of setting the scene for the rest of the album and really makes you feel like you’re in for a rollercoaster of a record.
If “Greatest Hits” was the sound of coming home and beginning to drift off to sleep, then, conceptually, at least, “Fuzzy” is that first fun and crazy dream that you have. There’s a groovy bassline on the pre-chorus that transitions into a soaring pre-chorus and chorus driven by guitars that will make you want to get up and dance immediately.
The pace of this album changes constantly, whether it be through Knight’s vocal delivery or chaotic instrumentals that slow down in the next few seconds; the transition from the end of “Fuzzy” to the beginning of “Lowkey As Hell” exemplifies this perfectly. Described by the vocalist in an interview with Kerrang! Magazine as a song about the past year of his life and the juxtaposition of an outgoing stage presence with a very subdued personal life, this was the first song released from this album back in autumn of 2020 and does a great job of introducing a lot of the themes that will be discussed later on this record.
Things pick back up on “Numb”, an upbeat, fun track sonically that explores the scary and toxic side of fame and having fans. Knight explains that he feels as if his following only likes him when he’s emotionally numb, like he isn’t allowed to have emotions, have fun, or go through hard times.
The line “You’re either dying / Or you’re playing / Either way I’m in the conversation / (Woo!)” makes the idea of “no publicity is bad publicity” extremely real and frankly a bit scary, as the vocalist realizes that it doesn’t matter how he truly feels as long as his fans will keep him relevant. The lyrics “‘Cause you can't look past caps / Or the jokes I make / Because you hate to laugh / You're too cool for me” refers to his energetic, chaotic social media personality, and how potential fans (like me, at times) can get caught up in what he posts and refuse to be a fan of his band because of it.
Chock-full of references to past Waterparks songs and extremely insightful lyrically, “Numb” is one of the strongest songs in this record, and its broken-down ending transitions perfectly into the next track, titled “Violet!” Lyrically, this song is about a very real situation that Knight lived through dealing with a fan who was stalking him, but sonically, the production is sticky-sweet and super melodic; the contrast is beautiful.
“Snow Globe” was the song that fully restored my faith in Waterparks when it was released as a single back earlier this year, and it fits perfectly in its spot as the sixth track on this record. It’s production is once again driven by a groovy bassline and bright, poppy synths, while its lyrical content explores the dark side of fame, discussing everything from an overload of validation that makes all love feel fake, a lack of sleep, and your fans saying they hate who you used to be when they helped turn you into who you are now.
The last line heard on “Snow Globe” is “This is the soundtrack to us giving up”, a fitting transition to “Just Kidding”, whose simple instrumentation allows its dark lyrical content to float to the top. The central line of “I wish I was dead sometimes / Haha, just kidding” simplifies the very real struggle of feeling hopeless but not wanting anyone to worry about you, or just knowing that they won’t take you seriously in the first place; this is the soundtrack to Knight giving up that he warned us about just minutes ago.
The final line on “Just Kidding” is “and repeat”, alluding to the mundane day-to-day of feeling depressed, possibly during the COVID-19 pandemic, or just in general. The next track, “The Secret Life of Me”, takes a hard left sonically with one of the brightest instrumentals on the album, while the lyrics see Knight dissociating and wishing his life was different, most likely as a result of the thoughts explored in the previous track.
Marking the halfway point on this album as the ninth track is “American Graffiti”, lyrically similar to “Numb” as the frontman assesses how he is perceived by his fans and the public in comparison to how he perceives himself. Once again, these deep and slightly dark lyrics are sung over an upbeat pop-rock instrumental, a microcosm of the positive light that others may see Knight in as opposed to how negatively he may view himself.
Serving as the fourth single off of “Greatest Hits”, “You’d Be Paranoid Too (If Everyone Was Out To Get You)” also serves as a companion piece of sorts to Knight’s autobiography of the same name. The instrumental sees the band going back to their roots with an energetic pop-punk sound, while the lyrics see the singer venting about how he is viewed by others once again.
Much like how “Never Bloom Again” was the slowed-down love song on “Fandom”, “Fruit Roll Ups” seems to take on this role for this record. The soft, dreamy production is accompanied by playful, tongue-in-cheek lyrics like “I’m a little bitch for you”, all-in-all making for a song that’s sweet as candy.
“LIKE IT” sees the band reach 100 Gecs levels of chaos in terms of instrumentation and vocal delivery, as Knight yells and chants over a jarring mess of haphazard electronic elements, and, somehow, it works. Lyrically, this song is similar to tracks like “TANTRUM” and “Little Violence”, recounting frustrations in a way that’s definitely more angry than sad, with clips from an interview serving as bookends.
Track 13, “Gladiator (Interlude)” is a spoken track, with Josh Madden (older brother of Benji and Joel Madden, members of emo greats Good Charlotte and mentors to Waterparks) discussing gladiators in ancient Rome who fought each other to entertain an audience for no reason other than to survive. He compares these warriors and their audience to the relationship between musicians and the media before the groovy instrumentation fades into “Magnetic.”
This track is super high-energy and high-intensity both lyrically and sonically. Knight tears himself down in every way possible as powerful guitars and electronic elements soar in the background, making it one of the most unique and memorable tracks on the album.
While most of Waterparks’ music is self-aware to a degree, it’s never as vulnerable as it is on “Crying Over It All”, a ballad of sorts looking at the band’s career and Knight’s life thus far, where both things could go in the future, and what might happen when both the band and Knight are long gone. There are references to past songs and past relationships throughout the song, but the highlight is definitely Knight begging the subject, “please make me sane for you”, a far cry from the band’s breakout hit “Stupid For You” off of “Double Dare.”
The ethereal, dreamy feeling of “Crying Over It All”, doesn’t last very long, however, as “Ice Bath” wakes you up from your slumber with a shock, much like its namesake. The lyrics see the protagonist awakening the next morning, dreading leaving their happier dreams and returning to the materialistic world that they’re living in.
This track almost serves as the companion piece to the opening title track, bringing back the lyric “Last night I had the strangest dream of all” and the choppy, robotic vocal style. It ends with the repeated line “All I need is more time right now”, coming full circle from the earlier warning of “Take this time you have”, representing taking the time we spend sleeping for granted.
“See You In The Future” is a wild ride of a closing track, completing a wild ride of an album. The lyrics bring together nearly all of the themes present throughout the album, including paranoia and overthinking, career expectations and the dark side of fame, perception by fans and the public on social media, and fear for the future, all discussed over a chaotic EDM-influenced instrumental.
The song (and the album) ends when the vocals cut out with pounding drums followed by ten seconds of silence, allowing you to think about the musical journey that you just went on, and man, what a journey it’s been. It almost feels unfair to call “Greatest Hits” a concept album, when it’s so much more than that; it’s an experience.
By now, it’s no secret that I love this record, but I’m also thankful for it on a much deeper level. “Greatest Hits” has helped restore my love of Waterparks and has shown me that this is a band that has matured with me, not one that I left behind or one that abandoned me for greener pastures.
Even though we grew apart a little for a few years, it feels nice to have regained the love I once had for one of my favorite bands and even seen it multiply. “Greatest Hits” reminded me that Waterparks has always been here, and will always be here for me, as cheesy as it sounds.
If you’re also looking to feel like your entire outlook on life has been changed by one album in just over 45 minutes, “Greatest Hits” is available to stream wherever you listen to music. You can support the band by picking up some merch (including new items for the new album) via 300 Entertainment’s official online merch store and you can keep up with them on Instagram @Waterparks, Facebook @Waterparks, and Twitter @Waterparks.
To watch me ramble about how much I love this record even more - because I’m sure I’ll be tweeting about it for months at this point - you can follow me on Twitter @JENSESSlON. To be the first to know when new reviews are out, you can follow the blog on Instagram @StrawberrySkiesBlog, Twitter @StrawbSkiesBlog, and Facebook @StrawberrySkiesBlog.