Photo Credit: Press via Calvin Harris
Calvin Harris first broke out in the UK a little over 15 years ago, with the now-Gold certified “Acceptable in the 80s” – an intriguing and singular, if anachronistic, cut of electro-funk. Four years later, he broke out worldwide as a featured artist on Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” The Scottish DJ’s music has been inescapable ever since, but his sixth studio LP may mark the end of his predominance. The second volume of the Funk Wav Bounces installment relies on many of the same techniques Harris has long used to get his music to the top of the charts; he recruits a mixture of established A-listers and rising stars to feature and works within a low-stakes, summery sound that it’s hard to take offense at.
But throughout it all, there’s this hard-to-shake sense of diminishing returns. There’s no obvious summer hit like the indelible “Feels” off the 2017 first installment and the featured artists regularly disappoint. 21 Savage throws in the towel almost immediately during “New Money,” Jorja Smith fails to offer up her typical standard of vocals on “Somebody Else,” while Justin Timberlake continues his artistic decline on “Stay With Me.” Oftentimes, artists with little to no similarities are combined on tracks – with Dua Lipa joining Young Thug on “Potion” and Charlie Puth joining Shenseea on “Obsessed.” In better hands, these pairings could result in something genuinely exciting, but here the result is merely discordance. Shenseea’s Patois rapping on “Obsessed” injects much needed personality and fun into Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2, but it’s wasted when she shares a billing with pop’s blandest leading man, Charlie Puth – who attempts an awkward, uncharastically deep vocal delivery.
Given that Harris has the best part of two decade’s experience under his belt, there is a surprising sense of tentativeness that plagues much of Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 – a sense of bets being hedged, of more exciting paths not taken. “Woman Of The Year” for instance, is the sort of bog standard, soulless pop number that you’d expect Harris would be able to produce in his sleep by this point. Elsewhere, competing visions clash jarringly – an out-of-place guitar riff opens “Potion” before the song u-turns into an entirely different direction. Harris also seems unable to accommodate the diverse array of talents he’s recruited; Busta Rhymes offers impressive rapping on “Ready or Not,” but the low-key, ‘vibey’ arrangements that backdrop his delivery fail to do his rapping justice.
There are some salvageable moments across FWBV2’s runtime – Dua Lipa captures some of that Future Nostalgia charm on her verses in “Potion,” while Halsey exudes casual cool on “Stay With Me.” Normani and Tinashe, meanwhile, make “New To You” an obvious highlight. But amidst the conveyor belt of blandness offered up by Harris, the few and far between highlights hardly seem worth it.