ANDEarlier this year, it was revealed that Calvin Harris had bought an organic farm in Ibiza. For a moment, it looked as though the 38-year-old, Dumfries-born DJ was giving up his crown as king of EDM in favor of a quieter life. He shared selfies with sheep on Instagram and took pride in the size of his watermelons, captioning photos with phrases such as “nature’s generosity”.
Of course Harris hadn’t retired and, given that he earns a reported $400,000 (£330,000) every time steps up to the decks for a DJ set, he would be a fool to do so – and he is currently in the middle of a DJ residence in Ibiza. However there was a sense that, as happened to a lot of us over the past few years, the priorities of the world’s highest earning DJ had shifted, and the former noise merchant was looking for a quiet life.
It wasn’t the first time he had pivoted. While early hit Acceptable in the 80s marked him as something of a novelty act, I found his footing from him during the EDM explosion of the early 2010s. His 2011 album 18 months scored him nine Top 10 hits, including the No 1 hit Sweet Nothing, a surprisingly emo banger featuring Florence Welch. He helped Rihanna secure a career-defining hit with We Found Love, gave Cheryl her ella’s best song with Call My Name, and proved her pop prowess with Rita Ora’s I Will Never Let You Down.
Then, in 2017, I pressed pause on the rave synths and body-quivering drops for Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1. Featuring some of the world’s biggest pop and hip-hop stars – Frank Ocean, Pharrell Williams, Migos and Ariana Grande – it was a breezy, BBQ-ready slice of post-disco sunshine that flirted with 80s boogie and a light smattering of Parliament-Funkadelic.
It was a mixed bag, though, its poolside sliders-and-sunglasses vibe often so relaxed it pushed into boredom. Still, the prospect of a follow-up volume piqued people’s interest. Even if the first volume was enjoyable but dull, Harris’s ability to draft in A-list talent was exciting. And Funk Wav Bounces Vol 2 delivers on that front. There’s a blinding amount of star power on display: Justin Timberlake, Halsey, 21 Savage, Dua Lipa, Normani, Pusha T and Busta Rhymes. Unfortunately, it has very little else to offer.
Harris is playing in a similar retro sonic sandpit as on Vol 1, and it sounds lush: shimmering production and seductive guitars lace New Money, which features 21 Savage and the absurd lyric “Gucci garments / Kush smell like armpits”. Woman of the Year, a collaboration with Stefflon Don, Chlöe and Coi Leray, is a massage of a song, with the low bubble of an organ and the pulse of clavinet cushioning funk guitars and light percussion. New to You, which finds Tinashe, Normani and Offset battling for airtime, is a slinky blur of disco and boogie, the romantic crush of strings after the chorus providing a frisson of delight.
The issue is that none of the songs that all this gorgeous production whirls around are actually any good. The biggest offender is closer Day One. After an opening reminiscent of the most innocuous of Ibiza chillout soundscapes, replete with electric pianos and wah-wah effects, Pharrell appears to sing on what he has to be one of the worst songs of his career. . The production is so sleepy that everything sounds off beat, while the melody is so limp and the vocal delivery so lifeless that you wonder whether Pharrell still had a pulse by the end.
Similarly insipid is Stay With Me, which is another Pharrell collaboration although this time Justin Timberlake and Halsey are also clawing for your attention. With an echo of the sugary delights of Earth, Wind and Fire’s Let’s Groove, it should be a high point, yet the singers’ designated sections never quite slot together naturally, creating something sticky and awkward. As Halsey puts it on the under-baked chorus: “It’s a mess out here.”
Harris still has the capacity to engage. The neon-lit Somebody Else, with its swell of 80s guitars, offers a brilliant bit of late-night desperation, Jorja Smith and Lil Durk’s verses each aching with hurt and longing. Busta Rhymes provides the most animated guest appearance on Ready or Not, a beast of a G-Funk sundowner that, thanks to its dissonant synth chords, bongo drums, a good lashing of tambourine and Rhymes’s spitfire rapping, is vibrant and alive.
But a couple of invigorating moments don’t absolve the album of its biggest sin: how dull it is. Funk Wav Bounces Vol 2 may often sound luxurious but there’s barely any substance. Unlike the spoils of his farming from him, Harris has crafted something that’s lacking in flavour.