Awsten Knight is not a man to be missed or ignored. Never mind his predilection for brightly coloured hair, he is a prolific tweeter, engaging his large international fanbase with emotional honesty in his role as lead singer, lyricist and frontman of the Texas band Waterparks. Behind the bright and breezy facade however, there is a serious musician responsible for some of the catchiest anthems to emerge from the pop-punk scene in recent years. Entertainment, their second album, arrives shortly after Knight admitted in a brutally honest manner that he thought of it as “ruined” due to an undisclosed event in his personal life. Given that much of Entertainment describes being madly in love, it’s safe to guess what happened. However, with themes of obsession and hints at depression, it is more than just a sappy tribute to young love. Beneath the vibrant surface colours, there is a darker centre lying at its core.
Much of the album lies at the poppier end of pop-punk and enjoyment will largely depend on listeners’ feelings towards that oft-maligned genre. The chirpy ‘11:11’ is catchy enough but is a surprisingly timid opening track compared to the following ‘Blonde’. Here, we get the first glimpse of the double layered approach that runs through much of Entertainment. On the surface, it doesn’t appear to stray far from the trusted blink-182 template with its fast-paced guitar matched with Knight’s rapid vocal delivery. If anything, on first listen it seems vacuous with its talk of blondes being too cool for fun. However, beneath the surface sheen is a brutally honest message about suffering depression whilst on the road. When taken in that context, lines such as: “No plastic or paper can take her” take on a whole new meaning. To acknowledge the normality of feeling sad is an important message for someone in Knight’s influential position to give his fans, and shows that this band operate at a different level to how they may be initially perceived. ‘Peach (Lobotomy)’ performs a similar trick with its tale of obsession being masked by a catchy whistling refrain.
The most interesting moments on Entertainment are when they deviate from the standard pop-punk template. The synth-riff to album highlight ‘Not Warriors’ will get lodged in the brain, while the aptly-named ‘TANTRUM’ offers the trio the chance to really let loose. It is far harder edged than anything they’ve done before, with Knight savagely singing “Maybe if I kill myself you’ll know I’m sincere”. Even further from their usual style is the following ‘Crybaby’, a track that features a sample of an opera singer’s voice cut up and distorted in the background. The ingenuity and creativity here shows the next step for Waterparks, being infinitely more interesting than the likes of ‘Rare’ which is nothing that a host of other bands of a similar ilk haven’t done before. There is also time for sweet pop moments, with ‘We Need To Talk’ and ‘Lucky People’, (the latter being a classic lovestruck track that surely represents the “ruined” element for Knight) easily being the match of more traditional pop acts.
How a band with such a predominantly youthful fanbase move on and progress is always tricky, both for the artist and their fanbase, with the risk of one leaving behind the other always a peril. To stick in the same mould can be to stagnate but to leap into new genres risks alienating them. In their more creative moments, Waterparks show just enough that they are up to the challenge but it doesn’t yet feel like it has fully gelled together. At times, there is a sense of two disparate instincts pulling against the other, each trying to win a battle of wills between pop and a more mature sound. For now, as Waterparks decide which way to go, the level of entertainment value that this album gives is going to be different for every listener.