Album Review: Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2

[Sony; 2022]

Calvin Harris is a busy man. Or does he just like to hedge his bets? His eagerly awaited follow to his 2017 album arrives while the Dumfries-born DJ is in the middle of a residency at mega club Ushuaia Ibiza, where, from what I’ve been told, he’s exclusively churning out past career hits. The audaciously named Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 was meant to be the epiphany moment, the project which filled all the gaps left by his discography since his breakthrough debut album.

Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1, although flawed, set the stage for a promising project with risky dives into R&B, funk and boogie. The second in the series plays on safer ground. This is a producer-focused work; all 14 of the tracks (bar the intro) feature guests ranging from East Coast rap icon Busta Rhymes to pop royalty Justin Timberlake. So far, so good. But what lets it down is the lack of an overarching narrative and the absence of any real chemistry between the guests and instrumentals. For an artist with so many successful collaborations in his past, this is a surprise. It feels like a cut and paste job, dreamed up while dozing at the turntables.

“New Money” is the worst of the bunch, featuring a garbling 21 Savage, completely devoid of his usual taste and interest. The lack of dynamism lingers uncomfortably throughout the album. On “Day One”, Pharrell Williams slides into his upper register, crooning vapidly about when we “met too young to drive cars”. Pusha T’s sprightly verse is the saving grace of the otherwise expendable track. The wispy “Live my best life”, featuring Snoop Dogg, feels similarly hollow.

It is hard to pin the blame on guest performers when the instrumentals repeatedly fail to cut through. Harris strives to add grit and dirt to the overall sonic atmosphere, but the live instrumentation lacks heart. Electric guitars may have replaced drawling synthesisers, but the shift feels contrived – a mere reflection of changing tastes by an artist who knows his market. There are outlying gems of course, when an inspired guest performances collides with more engaging beats – they are reason to celebrate, even though they feel more like accidents. On “Obsessed”, Charlie Puth delivers an irresistible hook on a bouncing, phaser-assisted instrumental. Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 begs for more moments like this.

A heavy summer haze surrounds the project. Directionless and lacking any substance, it almost sounds as though Harris has created the album on the beach itself, cobbling together phoned-in vocals with tropical jams. Only last summer, by Harris’ own admission, the project was still far from being conceived. 

At its best, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 provides an inoffensive theme tune to a hot August. Many of the songs intone effortlessly through headphones and will be no stranger to supermarket playlists. As the songs outlive their shelf life by the end of summer, they will inevitably turn stale and be discarded. Detractors have long said that Harris’ music is tailor made for background summer playlists you can ignore – listening to this project, it’s hard to disagree.