Sunday, January 28, 2018

Review of Waterparks' "Entertainment"

I posted this review a few minutes on the Sputnik Music site:

Review Summary: I don't love this album, even though I really wanted to.

In 2016, I was a big Waterparks defender. While some maligned the Houston pop-punk band's debut album Double Dare as unsophisticated and depthless, I argued that music doesn't always have to be complex to be worth something. There's something to be said for the simple enjoyment of a good pop hook, and "fun" shouldn't be a dirty word for music. But here I am in 2018 reviewing the band's newest release Entertainment, and I'm finding this one harder to defend. I know that Waterparks has had a hectic performing schedule over the last two years, and I read an interview with lead singer Awsten Knight where he explained that the recording process for this LP had to be jammed into a single month. However, the trouble here seems to me to be more than just a case of a band being too rushed. Some critics have argued that what's different from the last album to this one is simply a matter of a pop punk band going in more of a "pop" than a "punk" direction for one album. Maybe, but it feels like more than that. To me, the problem is that Entertainment feels dumbed down, almost like the band made a deliberate decision to shoot for a younger demographic.

Mind you, I'm not saying that the album is terrible. I still like Waterparks' basic sound. Yes, Awsten Knight is vaguely helium-voiced, but I think that works for this genre -- it never hurt Blink-182. And I enjoy the way he constantly tries to cram ten pounds worth of words into a five-pound lyric line. As for the instrumentation, there's a lot of use of synths, and I'm good with that -- particularly since so many pop punk bands tend to go with all guitars. 

I think the problem here is twofold. First, in comparison to Double Dare or the 2016 Cluster EP, I find the songs themselves just a tad less interesting musically. In too many cases, the hooks aren't grabbing me as much. What's really hitting me in the face, though, is how trite some of the lyrics are. It might seem strange, since I quote lyrics so often in my reviews, but I'm not really a lyrics guy. I tend to let them blow past me, unless they're either particularly clever, or jarringly bad. And some of the lyrics here made me wince. 

For example, in the opening track "11/11" we find this line: "My favorite set of stairs is the one up to your room". Really? You have a favorite set of stairs? What's your favorite ceiling fan? Then there are the cliched rhymes, like this little gem from "Rare": "'Cause we're not seventeen/But you're my teenage dream". Didn't ABBA kind of pull the cord on that one about forty years ago? If it sounds like I'm nitpicking, I'm not trying to. It's just that lyrics like this forced themselves to my attention the first time I listened to this album, and once I started to notice them, I couldn't not hear them.

There are definitely some things I like about this LP. I enjoyed songs like "Peach (Lobotomy)", a nice mid-tempo number with some pleasantly strummed guitar and interesting use of whistling, and "Not Warriors", with its catchy chorus. And "TANTRUM", which is the musical equivalent of a nervous breakdown, isn't just the liveliest song here, it also has the best and most sincere-feeling lyrics on the album (for example: "I'm getting texts from idols I've looked up to since 15/But now people use my friends to try to get to me, fuck you.") Even a few of the songs where the lyrics make me cringe have some good things going on instrumentally. I love the synth pattern underlying "11/11", and the guitar chords on "Lucky People" might not be unique, but they make me nod along and smile. And as I mentioned, I like the vocals throughout. 

It's just the little pet peeves that keep me from fully enjoying this album. Like the too-often joltingly bad lyrics. Or the boring album art. Or the way the opening chords on the song "Rare" are just a little too reminiscent of the opening chords on the Gwen Stefani song of the same name(!) from her 2016 This Is What the Truth Feels Like LP. These are the things that make me want to go all Lewis Black and throw a "TANTRUM" of my own.

I still like Waterparks. I'd happily see them live again if given the opportunity. And I don't hate this album. It's just that I don't love it either, and I really wanted to.

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars