We get it Calvin, we really do. You’re not the dishevelled, greasy-haired scene kid who released ‘Acceptable In The 80s’ back in 2006. You’ve changed. You have famous friends and an even more famous ex-girlfriend. You have a lot of money and some abs. And now you’re making cool, credible music that features the hottest names in the world from Frank Ocean to Snoop Dogg. But Jesus, Calvin Harris, tone it down.
Everything about this new era of Calvin Harris is extremely try-hard, isn’t it. From the hazy, tropical visuals to the host of big names crammed onto every track, it all feels a bit desperate. We get it, Calvin. You’re a cool dude. Sure. You’re a white DJ but, like, a cool one. Whatever.
The product of Harris’s please-invite-me-to-your-cool-party era is Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1. It’s a title that sums up everything annoying about Calvin Harris and his desperate attempt to elbow his way into current trends. Having made his name with big dance tunes, Harris is now zoning in on the rap and hip hop scene, this being where the big bucks is to be made. But while the whole album campaign has been built heavily around on-trend visuals that suggest style over substance, the fact is Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 is a solid album from start to finish.
With its immense roll call of superstars, there is no room for filler. No one here is going to settle for being plonked on some mid-album afterthought or a half-baked pop number. Harris has had to lure the celebs with some impressive tunes, each one distinctive while sticking to the summery, hip hop sound that pervades the album. As a result, we get turns from some of the genre’s biggest names, including Pharrell Williams, Big Sean and Nicki Minaj.
While each track has its merits, there are undoubtedly some stand-outs. ‘Heatstroke’ is a glittery, sun-soaked beach bop featuring the silky vocals of reigning queen of the world Ariana Grande while ‘Rollin’ is a sleek and synthy summer jam. Elsewhere, ‘Feels’ is a reggae-flavoured RnB track that, along with ‘Heatstroke’, boasts a guest feature from Pharrell. It’s interesting that Pharrell features here, given that he’d been peddling a very similar style of smooth RnB production for years before Harris suddenly appropriated it. If he feels robbed, he doesn’t seem to mind, and his two tracks are the highlights of an already strong album.
The guest stars of Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 are overwhelmingly male, though it’s the women that prove the most memorable, breaking up long chunks of rap with breezy, melodic interludes. Kehlani, Katy Perry and Jessie Reyez are among the stars offering some of the album’s best choruses while Nicki Minaj dominates the entirety of ‘Skrt On Me’ – the only track with just one vocalist.
What Calvin Harris has put together is essentially ten singles – each one a hit in its own right – that somehow manage to gel as an album. Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 is a snapshot of the current zeitgeist, an amalgamation of the people, the music and the aesthetics that have dominated (and will no doubt continue to dominate) 2017. Every track sounds as though it has been pored over, the production relentlessly squeaky clean and tight, the hooks consistently catchy and fresh. Sure, Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 is try-hard, but it’s also very, very good.