The first memory I have of Waterparks is when they opened for Sleeping With Sirens on a couple of their U.S. tours. I remembered them as an easycore band with hints of neon sprinkled into their melodies. I’m pretty particular with my pop-punk, so like your high school classmate after graduating, I fell out of contact. My curiosity got the better of me with the band dropped their latest album, Fandom. Similar to your high school classmate at the five-year reunion, they’re nothing like you remember them; sadly, it’s not always a good thing.
Autotune, synth, pads, funky riffs, and melodies. If I had a dollar for every time Fandom reminded me of Paramore’s After Laughter, I’d have the sum of Hayley’s royalties from “Hard Times”. Many of the synths and pads almost fit in every song. The piano banging on “Telephone” sounds too plastic to go with the rest of the song, despite the chorus being one of my favorites. The metal/dubstep mishmash on “War Crimes” sticks out like a sore thumb (and that post-chorus? “I told you so?” After Laughter, amirite?) Frequently throughout Fandom, real and synth drums would tap in and out—it rarely worked, again sticking out.
If this album came out in 2009, Fandom would be an entire lap ahead of the race. Every synth sound from the dubstep to the leads and pads are direct references to other songs from the past. I’m not asking Waterparks to reinvent the wheel, but the synths are the backbone of this album, they’re being used so often, I can’t help but notice it. Call me crazy, but so many points in Fandom remind me of Owl City, right down to Awsten Knight’s vocals on points like “Zone Out”. The “wub wub”s throughout Fandom are straight off Skrillex’s MacBook Pro.
Lyrically, Waterparks starts Fandom with a message for their fans and haters alike. On “Watch What Happens Next”, Knight talks about how the band’s changing sound makes long time fans angry, lamenting “you wanna hear my art, but only on your terms”. The song also makes a point about the advantage of hip hop artists and their ability to make a country hit (you know exactly what they’re referring to), while Waterparks fans need “an easy ******* format”. his is the point in the album where the band subverts all expectations, and makes something that changes the entire cultural landscape. Instead, the vast majority of the songs after “Watch What Happens Next” are about relationships. You know, that “simple format” Awsten complained about people needing for their music to be liked. How underwhelming.
The album isn’t all bad, as harsh as I’m being. The bridge on “Turbulent” is a perfect buildup to what the rest of the song was hinting at. Choruses like “Dream Boy” and “Worst” are certified earworms. As much as the many elements don’t always fit, the production does a great job at organizing the layers of instruments and synths. Fandom could be way more crowded for an album, and that deserves to be recognized. The stripped down “Never Bloom Again” has all the qualities to add to your acoustic alt-rock Spotify playlist.
Waterpark’s Fandom tries its damnedest to make a game-changer. But you can’t make game-changers with elements from older, already established acts. Dig hard enough and you’ll find some gems, but you’re bound to get your hands really dirty.
LOVE EM: Turbulence, Never Bloom Again
LEAVE EM: Group Chat, Telephone
Review by Gabe Straight