In February 2017, DJ and dance-pop producer Calvin Harris dropped a single titled “Slide” which featured Frank Ocean and Migos. With a full album planned to follow this groundbreaking release, Harris effectively changed the course of his music for the foreseeable future with the release of this groovy, laid-back song. Now in 2022, after new singles and side projects, the second volume in Harris’s Funk Wav Bounces series is here, and it has been highly anticipated. Besides Vol. 1 being very well received by the general public, Vol. 2 is the first album since 2017 from the Scottish DJ.
Similar to the first installment of the Funk Wav Bounces series, this album has a concept. Harris brings on popular artists to try their shot at a funky collaborative song, while he curates the vibe and produces each track for a DJ Khaled-style project. Before Vol. 1, this genre had been untouched by Harris, with his previous biggest hits being dance tracks like “Summer” and “We Found Love” with Rihanna.
The album begins with an ultra-simplified intro that barely gives you enough time to figure out what is going on before the second track “New Money” begins. Presumably, these 39 seconds are for walking away from the turntable and settling down after dropping the needle. As “New Money” and “Potion” play, it’s apparent that Vol. 2 does not start off anywhere near as strong as Vol. 1, whose leadoff duo of “Slide” and “Cash Out” might contain the two best songs of the entire Funk Wav series.
“New Money” is carried instrumentally. There is a slick guitar riff that fits beautifully into the chords, and the bass adds some rhythm to the simple but smooth drum beat. 21 Savage has rarely ever been an energetic presence, and his vocals here sound unenthusiastic as ever. While “Potion” feels more complex than “New Money,” neither of these songs have the cohesion of Vol. 1 tracks like “Slide” or “Cash Out.” Dua Lipa’s chorus on “Potion” contains a memorable line and melody, and overall it’s one of the smoothest and most replayable songs on the album.
Coi Leray shines on “Woman Of The Year,” where she leans into a hip-hop flow. This track doesn’t stand out instrumentally, but each feature feels fitting. “Obsessed” is a polarizing track. While Charlie Puth’s chosen voice is a bold move that could throw some people off, his melodies on the chorus are sticky and his harmonies are pleasing despite the lyrics sounding less desirable the more you ponder them. Shenseea seems to be making a breakthrough for American audiences this year, and her personality is felt on “Obsessed.” Lyrics aside, this is one of the more enjoyable listens on Vol. 2, purely going off the sound.
The album experiences its first trainwreck after the midpoint during the two-part song “Stay With Me.” Halsey kicks off the track with a sing-song melody that is instantly annoying. But as Justin Timberlake appears, this becomes far less of a worry. In 2022 Timberlake cannot sell anything slick or sexual, let alone over this fast of a beat. “Damn, look at those pants” is by far the worst moment on the album and possibly the worst line of the year so far. Pharrell is a slight break from the madness, but he does the same exact thing he has been doing on pop tracks for the past decade. With the slight auto-tune it’s almost as if he created an AI version of himself to sing for him.
The lyrics on “Stay With Me” are unoriginal, and the switch to “Stay With Me (Part 2)” is barely noticeable, rendering the split fairly pointless. A far better example of how to create a long, complex song would be “New To You” with Normani, Tinashe and Offset. This song reaches for a more cinematic progression: the string intro is like an introduction to an actual story. The lyrics feel authentic and meaningful, and the instrumental shifts drive the progression of the track. Tinashe’s bridge into the song’s outro is one of the best moments on the album, proving that she can do everything that Timberlake tried to do on “Stay With Me.” “New To You” comes off as the most detailed and cohesive track on the album, and stands up to multiple cuts off of Vol. 1.
“Somebody Else” and “Nothing More To Say” are a much needed peak after the lows of “Stay With Me,” which make the song seem even worse. The former pushes the threatening vibe nearly too far in the intro, but Jorja Smith’s laid-back delivery contrasts that of Lil Durk’s projected energy and emotion. The instrumental is a bit jerky based around the snappy bass line, but the features entertain enough to distract from this. “Nothing More To Say” is a lightweight, inoffensive track without much to complain about. 6lack’s vocals have a nice sandy texture to them, and Donae’o is basically used as an instrument providing a catchy, repeatable motif to close the track. The subtle keys are a shiny touch that adds a lot to the instrumental as well.
“Live My Best Life” is another huge misstep for the album. The lyricism of Snoop Dogg on this track is bottom-notch, with almost every line he says sounding painfully uninspired. The “living my best life” cliche has been done to death at this point, and no new songs need to be made based around this phrase for a very long time. “Ready Or Not” with Busta Rhymes faces this same problem, but to a lesser extent, thanks to the instrumental and chorus actually bringing a bit of raw energy. These old rappers seem to have nothing left to say on this album. Obviously, Busta Rhymes can rap fast, but with a verse filled with lines such as “it ain’t nothin’ really to it ’cause we ’bout to let it blow,” it’s hard to care at all about the song.
Swae Lee and Harris attempt to close out the album one track early on “Lean On Me” with slow, somber chords and a decent guitar solo. However, Pharrell and Pusha T come back for a quick, introspective jam-packed with cultural references and a solid rap verse. Sadly, Pharrell’s chorus is painfully annoying, rivaling Halsey’s “Stay With Me” performance dishonorably.
Overall, this album deserves some sympathy. After the first volume of Funk Wav Bounces, it was easy to believe another project of these tracks from Harris would be awesome. However now that it’s here and comparable to the first, no one really seems to want it anymore. Between the standards being set too high and the repetitive nature of the series concept, the project was doomed to be very underwhelming.
Aside from the massive problems with tracks like “Stay With Me,” “Ready Or Not” and “Live My Best Life,” this album is above average for most pop projects. There are lots of standout guest performances and catchy hooks, and while a bit repetitive the production is genuinely funky and textured. This concept from Harris is not nearly as exciting and unexpected as it was in 2017 when Vol. 1 shook the world. Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 is far from a complete swing-and-miss, but it’s missing the magic that its predecessor had in the element of surprise and in the cohesion of its tracks.