The biggest victim of fan-capture since Misery’s Paul Sheldon follows up Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1 with star names from Stefflon Don and Snoop Dogg to Justin Timberlake and Pharrell
Calvin Harris is many things these days – singer, multi-instrumentalist, EDM DJ, fiancé, farmer – but it appears the towering Scot is also the biggest victim of fan-capture since Misery’s Paul Sheldon. Five years after the release of Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1, the famously flighty producer has released a sequel which, despite the title’s implication, was never intended to be recorded. The bass is grooving, the chords are crunchy, the guests are suitably high-profile, but the artistic verve and memorable songwriting are considerably more patchy in their appearances.
Just like Vol 1 the rappers come thick and fast regardless of whether their sound fits the aesthetic of the record. “I got new money, it ain’t even out yet” is undoubtedly a cool line, but one suspects there’s a good reason why 21 Savage doesn’t often mumble death threats over yacht rock, while Woman Of The Year features Stefflon Don slathered in auto-tune that sounds decidedly obnoxious in this context. By the end of Vol 1 Harris sneakily moved into different styles, whereas Vol 2 sticks quite rigidly to the formula, and the effect is more than a bit cloying as he doesn’t have enough of interest to do with this palette of sounds.
Shenseea’s dominating tone is a welcome addition to Obsessed (“All you niggas are dogs / So when you get this pussy I’ll put you on all fours”) and the topline is sweet, though Charlie Puth botches it with an oddly garbled delivery, possibly attempting to make his voice sound lower and more soulful. Donae’o livens up Nothing More To Say so much that it makes this reviewer wish 6lack wasn’t on the song at all, and Snoop Dogg has surprisingly good chemistry with Latto on the downtempo Live My Best Life, one of the few highlights in this record’s final section.
Potion with Dua Lipa and Young Thug is nice enough, though for a producer who has crafted such intense drops the percussion here seems to lack impact. New To You is deserving of kudos for multiple reasons: it features lush, elaborate string arrangements, a daring but well-deserved runtime in the era of streaming and TikTok, and a winning vocal performance from the tragically underrated Normani. Not that he steals the show or anything, but it’s also worth mentioning that Offset’s verse gels nicely with the song’s production, a easygoing flow with faster triplets sprinkled tastefully around.
If there’s one reason why this record was worth making though, it’s Stay With Me parts 1 and 2. The production’s house influences help unlock all of Harris’ best instincts, as Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams glide effortlessly over breezy chord sequences and pave the way for Halsey’s rapped hook. Especially impressive is the way the song’s elements are inverted in Part 2, allowing Timberlake’s syncopated melodic slaloming to hit different pockets in both iterations, and it doesn’t come as a shock to see the brilliant songwriter James Fauntleroy in the mix here on one of the year’s best pop songs so far.
However, the sense of a missed opportunity lingers. In the past five years Harris has been busy working in multiple styles, the vintage house vibes of One Kiss and Promises as well as more techno-oriented bangers under his Love Regenerator alias, and he could have gone in many interesting directions for his sixth studio album instead of retreading old ground. It seems like ultimately money talked: Love Regenerator’s Live Without Your Love with Steve Lacy was an acid-flecked highlight of 2020 but didn’t chart well at all, meanwhile this is more of what has already been successful, an understandable but sad display of creative cowardice from an artist who we know is capable of more.