It’s summertime, it’s warm out, and you need something to listen to by the beach. Enter Calvin Harris with ‘Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2’, his second collection of nostalgic, easygoing pop with a bunch of your favourite names in the credits.
Although this record is presented as a fresh take on old sounds, truly, Harris has always been a nostalgic; his 2007 debut was infamously called ‘I Created Disco’, a jokey electro-house/LCD Soundsystem knock-off record with a cheeky title that didn’t sound particularly mature then and hasn’t aged particularly well since; that’s without critiquing its title, which certainly wouldn’t have gone down well in the age of Twitter.
He learned his lessons, though, and since that debut, Harris has carefully navigated many different worlds as an artist — presenting as a decent pop star without any dancing or singing skills of his own, while simultaneously being called upon for cashed-fuelled EDM residences when he seems far less interested in partying then his deviant and feisty American counterpart Diplo. Maybe Harris isn’t so different from the disco progenitors he was joking about; he always seems happiest tinkering away in a carefully isolated and well-cladded luxury studio filled with analogue synths, far away from the actual stickiness of the dance floor.
Successfully bridging the brute requirements of EDM and pop radio-play has also only been genuinely achieved a handful of times; Avicii’s ‘Wake Me Up’ certainly comes to mind, and Harris, in the intervening decade, became a master of the balance; with super-smash singles like ‘Feels So Close’ and, perhaps the crowning achievement of the genre as a whole, the Rihanna-indebted ‘We Found Love’. Selling almost 10 million units of that single afforded Harris a rolodex of any artist and collaborator he could possibly want as agencies and labels clamoured for a similar success — smart moves for the lad from Dumfries.
Ever the savvy industry navigator, a few years ago Harris keenly pivoted from the boom-bust cycle of EDM to more laid-back, 80s inspired pop, which is where he sits comfortably now, in this record and for its previous volume, which came out in 2017. He’s moved away from hands-in-the-air moments to that even more elusive yet universal want of vibes; the sort that can be pre-packaged and re-heated straight into those now critically important streaming playlists.
This volume is a vintage inspired buffet of all-you-can-eat pop boogie hooks and licks, just as its predecessor was. It’s filled with warm, expensive sounding pianos, guitars and drums: ‘Obsessed’ sounds exactly like a great Gap Band song until Charlie Puth comes in; what was really going to make or break the album was that tricky question of fitting modern and varied collaborators into a cohesive vintage sound. Some collabs here definitely work better than others: Normani and Tinashe make a solid effort on ‘New To You’, as does Jorja Smith on ‘Somebody Else’; but most of the time, it doesn’t feel that these vastly talented voices are used to their best potential, instead they’re boxed into a particular feel. Even Busta Rhymes and Pusha-T – two artists with uniquely energetic rapping skills – seem to have gone full chill-mode.
Maybe it’s silly to be truly disappointed. After all, the record is called ‘Funk Wav Bounces Vol 2’. The record is funky, it might sound good near some waves (the title is also a play on the .wav format for digital music files, which Harris is constantly sending to studios across the world), and the beats generally bounce happily along. It does what it says on the tin.
But two shadows loom conspicuously large. First is Beyoncé’s latest masterwork, ‘Renaissance‘, a dance album by a pop star which proves to be a far more genuinely fun and ambitious crossover than this pop album from a dance star. The second is ‘One Kiss’, Harris’ previous hit with Dua Lipa. That song is his finest work: the culmination of all the elements, talents and vintage sounds he has so energetically collected over the years; one of those rare songs you can play over and over and over. Though it’s possible Harris won’t ever reach those heights again, you can still hold out hope. I know I will.
Words: Louis Torracinta