Greatest Hits isn’t a greatest hits album.
Generally, greatest hits albums aren’t always that ‘great’. Bands go through different eras; different styles and sounds. Unless they’re stagnant and self-absorbed, bands are reflective practitioners of their art, always growing, learning, experimenting, pushing themselves. At least, the greats are. Which is why greatest hits albums are so contentious. Yes, they’re a collection of a band’s most famous and successful singles but there’s a lack of cohesion and continuity on a ‘best of’ which makes them less enjoyable than simply checking out a band’s album cycle.
That dissonance isn’t present on Waterparks’ fourth full length album Greatest Hits (which could arguably make it the best greatest hits album in the world). Each track is perfectly placed in a well-constructed order where every song smoothly complements the next and slots into the trio’s overall ‘vision’.
The new era of Waterparks has officially arrived and it’s clear that lead vocalist and songwriter Awsten Knight is extremely proud of what the band have accomplished across the course of these forty-seven minutes and seventeen tracks - “in my opinion, these are our greatest hits,” he said, stereotypically brash as ever.
In terms of subject matter, we’re in a pretty familiar ballpark for most of the songs. Knight criticises the music industry on the raucous and riotous ‘LIKE IT’, openly discusses his own mental health issues on numerous tracks, and of course, ever present on every Waterparks album, there’s a heavy dose of self-deprecating humour (see ‘Fruit Roll Ups’). Despite the somewhat repeated lyrical themes though, there’s a little more bubbling under the surface.
If last album Fandom was a critical look at the industry and their place within it, Greatest Hits is a deeper, more inward searching record which offers more than initially meets the eye. On first listen, some of these lyrics may feel superficial and throwaway, but a cursory scratch under the surface reveals some deeper issues being exposed. We’ve all been there. You make some arrogant, self-assured comment about yourself but deep down you’re wildly insecure. A lot of these songs expose the internal conflict of those moments and it’s certainly clever how Awsten Knight can still manage to be relatable while singing about being a millionaire. Displaying a sensitivity underneath the bravado has always been the Waterparks vibe to a certain extent but it feels more prevalent on this album especially on the likes of ‘Violet!’ and ‘Just Kidding’. The latter has a throwaway “hahaha just kidding” after Knight claiming he wishes he was dead sometimes, but just something as simple as a robotic woman’s voice at the end saying “and repeat” lends a haunting element to the track, suggesting a cycle of internalised hatred to be repeated on a daily basis and begging the question ‘was he really just kidding?’.
But it’s the musical arrangements, instrumentation and structure where this album really shines, regardless of some of the repeated themes in the lyrical content. Knight said he spent a lot of time writing this album during the pandemic, and it shows. With plenty of free time to hone his craft, criticise himself, write and rewrite and record and experiment, it’s clear the endless hours at home contributed to the amount of experimentation brought into certain tracks.
That being said, it would probably be unrealistic to refer to Waterparks as a ‘pop punk’ band anymore.
They’ve evolved their sound, but that evolution is a beautiful triumph of alt pop. With any evolution though, comes protests and grumbles from those resistant to change. Invariably some people will dismiss this album as throwaway bubblegum Disney pop with swearing, but to label it as such is to do a disservice to the complexity of the songwriting. The level of sophistication achieved in the song structure of tracks such ‘The Secret Life Of Me’, ‘Crying Over It All’ and the delicate and pretty, yet exceptionally catchy ‘Snow Globe’ cannot be understated. There’s still certainly moments for the fans of their slightly heavier style too. ‘American Graffiti’, for example, is the kind of classic pop punk type banger Waterparks were originally known for, but there’s a certain maturity to it that is, overall, present across the whole record. Greatest Hits feels like the natural evolution of a band constantly questioning themselves and everything around them and pushing themselves out their comfort zone.
The repetition of “last night I had the strangest dream of all” at the end of ‘Ice Bath’ echoes the opening title track ‘Greatest Hits’ and seems like it’s rounding off the album with a neat circular structure but just when you think you know what’s about to happen next we’re hit with the aptly named finale ‘See You In The Future’. This album heralds a turning point for the band. Greatest Hits shows a level of maturity that sees Waterparks rise above their own self-imposed nickname of ‘God’s favourite boy band’. They’ve grown up now (well, slightly), and their career trajectory will enable fans old and new to grow with them.
Greatest Hits is released May 21st via 300 Entertainment.