There was a time when listening to Calvin Harris was embarrassing.

Despite his early association with one of the hottest artists on the planet, Rihanna, the Scottish DJ and his “oontz oontz” dance catalog weren’t necessarily perceived as cool when he broke into mainstream pop in the early 2010s. Maybe it’s because that decade of music was being defined by generic one-hit wonders and fun but forgettable collaborations between pop stars and EDM artists. Or maybe it’s because electronic music, despite the recent efforts of musicians like Beyoncé and Dua Lipa, will always be a little uncool.

In 2022, though, Harris (whose real name is Adam Wiles) is, for all intents and purposes, a full-fledged, famously hot celebrity thanks to a string of high-profile romances, publicized beefs, and a very, um, illuminating Armani underwear ad. While his impression on critics still ranges from lukewarm to terrible, his songs have become noticeably more star-studded, sonically diverse, and harmlessly summer cookout-friendly. In 2017, he built up a cool enough reputation for both Migos and Frank Ocean to lend their vocals to the mega-popular “Slide,” off his album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, which arguably earned him the most cool points of his career.

It’s not a shock that Harris’ embrace of Black genres like R&B, hip-hop, and funk on that record paid off and have now led to what I would consider his first hotly anticipated album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 (as opposed to his previous records, which most people would only accidentally learn about by hearing his singles on the radio or at a Planet Fitness). Unfortunately, in the case of Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2, which was released Friday, even this hip, R&B-leaning version of Harris is still boring.

Granted, the first edition of Funk Wav Bounces was not a perfect album. But standout tracks like “Slide,” “Heatstroke,” “Feels,” and “Rollin’” gave us enough evidence to suggest Harris was experimenting in the right direction. Vol. 2, however, lacks the memorable hooks, interesting collaborations, and dynamic vocal performances of its predecessor. The record mostly feels like an attempt to capture our modern urge for disco and funk without the kind of well-crafted songwriting that would make listeners actually want to get up and dance.

Harris’ production on Vol. 2, as per usual, is incredibly smooth and accurately groovy. There are sexy guitar riffs on “Potion” featuring Dua Lipa and Young Thug and “Somebody Else” with Jorja Smith and Lil Durk; gorgeous strings that add an element of melancholy to a flirty song like “New To You” featuring Normani, Tinashe, and Offset; and, of course, a loud, funky bassline coursing throughout to create a lush, retro soundscape.

Still, the album’s nostalgic vibe and frivolous lyrics don’t automatically translate to fun, mostly because Harris struggles to incorporate his guests into his masterfully engineered world in a way that actually elevates the music. Looking at his impressive but somewhat random list of collaborators, you’re reminded of DJ Khaled’s overcrowded, A-list-starring tracks that feel like nothing more than business arrangements.

You’re reminded of DJ Khaled’s overcrowded, A-list-starring tracks that feel like nothing more than business arrangements.

“Stay With Me,” the album’s latest single, is probably the greatest example of Harris’ recruitment efforts falling flat. Vol. 2’s most danceable song features Pharrell Williams, a rapping Halsey, and a surprising appearance from Justin Timberlake in an obvious attempt to recreate the magic of “Feels,” the Vol. 1 track that featured Williams, Katy Perry, and Big Sean. The Neptunes member’s smooth vocal runs were the best part of that song, but on “Stay With Me,” Williams’ voice is Auto-Tuned to a grating degree. Even worse, there’s no chemistry among this particular trio of singers, nor an interesting progression from the verses to the refrain to the pre-chorus to the chorus, making it all sound like a try-hard mess.

Other times, it seems like Harris’ collaborators are simply phoning in it, like with Lipa’s sleep-inducing vocals on “Potion” (to be fair, the melody doesn’t give her much to work with). The same goes for most of the rappers who graciously appear on the album; those tracks noticeably lack the freshness of, say, Offset doing Migos’ signature triplet flow over analog sounds on “Slide.” The Atlanta rapper returns on Vol. 2, performing a boring verse tacked onto the end of “New To Me” that doesn’t add any texture. Similarly frustrating are Busta Rhymes’ breathless spitting on “Ready Or Not” and “New Money” featuring 21 Savage, both of which feel like Harris asking for credit simply for his unique meshing of genres without actually delivering the goods.

“Woman of the Year” is probably Vol. 2’s best offering, thanks to an instantly infectious hook and an excess of sass and personality supplied by rising R&B singer Chloe and rappers Stefflon Don and Coi Leray. “Obsessed,” featuring underrated crooner Charlie Puth and dancehall princess Shenseea, is also a standout. Still, while “Stay With Me” seems to be doing well streaming-wise, none of these songs feel like they’ll be remembered outside of any brief popularity they might be granted on TikTok.

Overall, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 proves that chill vibes and a chill Calvin Harris are a little overrated, especially at a very unchill time in history. If anything, this album will make you yearn for something more earnest, embarrassing, and cheesy—like a Calvin Harris song from 2014.



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