In what might be the ultimate exercise in “be careful what you wish for,” stadium-sized Scottish DJ and producer Calvin Harris’ long-awaited sequel to the soundtrack of Summer 2017 has arrived, even after Harris himself was adamant that he wouldn’t make another one. Still holding up as an ideal summer playlist five years later, the fun-loving, feature-heavy original wasn’t the most creatively proficient set of tracks in the world, but the guests all brought their A-game and Harris’ own goofy personality was felt through some instrumental quirks, masking the similarities between many of the beats. While Harris’ mastery of this deeply feel-good sound still manages to provide the backdrop for a couple bangers to ride out the waning weeks of the season, it’s a lot more of a mixed bag when it comes to the features and the effort levels on display and begins to feel a little samey by its conclusion as a result. Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 is not the crushing disappointment that many have made it out to be, but it’s certainly tough having to measure up to its predecessor.
Despite a muted reaction to the first couple singles from the project, they stand out as some of the most memorable tracks here and certainly are both equipped to grow on you. 21 Savage eases listeners into the project with “New Money,” a track that makes good use of his deadpan delivery and goofy lyricism while juxtaposing it with the summery poolside energy of the instrumental. The funk basslines and warm synth chords return, while a distorted guitar solo adds to the track. The mixing does feel a little off, as if Savage’s vocals were haphazardly copy-pasted on – and the problem persists into the next track, “Potion,” but the performances on top are fun enough that it doesn’t matter much. Dua Lipa was always going to be a natural fit for this sound, and despite a track that defied expectations by being more suited for the post-party cool-down than the preparations for going out, Lipa’s smooth and sensual delivery plays off of the synth stabs in the back and comes through with one of the catchiest choruses here, Young Thug adding a decent verse on the back end. The track “Woman Of The Year” is listeners’ first taste of something new, and while it’s undeniable that every track here still thrives on a baseline of head-nodding, smile-inducing, party-starting beats, unlike Vol. 1 many of the tracks here aren’t as engaging to an active listener. The mixing issues continue, Stefflon Don’s gravelly tone feeling grating against the funky beat, while Coi Leray’s verse is highly phoned in and underwritten. Chloe Bailey tries to liven things up with her charisma, but it eventually falls into the same repetitive cadences that they’d throw on a trap song. Where Vol. 1 felt like its own refreshing thing, Vol. 2 often feels like existing songs were retroactively “Funk Wavified.”
The back-to-back tracks “Obsessed” and “New To You” represent some of the biggest losses in potential on the project that might have measured up to the original album with a little tweaking. The former features a personality-driven patois rap from Shenseea that cuts through the mix like no other guest and one of the most rhythmically complex and engaging instrumentals on the project with a great piano riff, but it hands most of the track’s space over to a struggling Charlie Puth. It sounds like there’s a weird filter on his vocals that vaults him into a lower tonality that sounds like he’s yawning, but it might legitimately be Puth experimenting with a lower register that he doesn’t actually have. “New To You” initially feels like a new angle to the Funk Wav sound as it creatively mixes in some orchestral elements, but Normani’s chorus is shockingly overprocessed and rhythmically awkward while Tinashe sounds bored during her verse. The Migos flow has always worked well on these tracks as Offset drops a verse on the back end, but he’s on Auto-pilot as much as he has been for the last couple years. Leave it to a veteran like Busta Rhymes, as his sole command of “Ready or Not” finds him doing what he does best over the funk beat we expect, bringing his classic mic presence to the table. It’s nothing new for either artist, but it’s a lot of fun.
The presence of the man who made “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” and the man who made “Happy” should let you know what you might be getting into on the song “Stay with Me.” An overtly cheesy dance anthem that feels like it belongs in a kids’ movie, the oddly laid-back verses from Timberlake and Pharrell don’t match with a hyperactive and playful half-rapped chorus from Halsey or the manic up-tempo instrumental, the chemistry between the three nonexistent as they draw it out with a brief “Part 2.” The beats start to feel highly repetitive as you reach “Nothing More To Say,” which feels like a bland, computer-generated Funk Wav song as 6lack snoozes through his performance. British rapper Donae’o is decent on the back end, once again showing that they failed to understand which parts were strong enough to build the song around. “Somebody Else,” on the other hand, features a striking and emotional performance from Jorja Smith as the subject matter turns from beaches and clubs to heartbreak. The bass feels more live and rawer, while the instrumental is a little less cluttered, feeling like a great marriage between Harris’ style and the guest’s – one of Vol. 1’s biggest strengths. Lil Durk’s plaintive flows bolster the track on the back end as well.
Sometimes they call him Uncle Snoop, and now in his 50s, the Doggfather is starting to be a bit of a creepy one on tracks like “Live My Best Life.” With a smoky, sung chorus and more innuendos than we needed to hear, Snoop’s singing is equally awkward as Latto’s verse, where it almost feels like she never heard the beat at all. Swae Lee takes “Lean on Me” solo with a decent vocal performance and some awkward rhymes, while “Day One” closes things out with a last-second energy boost from the instrumental and a fun moment where the cold and calculating Pusha T flows over a Funk Wav beat and even drops a reference to Disney’s Encanto.
The existence of this album at all is a bit of a conundrum – it’s clear that Harris didn’t really want to make another one, but if that’s the case, why was the original titled “Vol. 1”? With as much genuine talent as he has as a producer, it might be nice to see more compilation projects like this one – but please, next time, try something different.
Favourite Tracks: Somebody Else, Potion, New Money, Ready Or Not
Least Favourite Track: Live My Best Life