Hard to believe, but 2017 marks ten years in the biz for Calvin Harris. While the former Adam Wiles was an instant U.K. success, it took his massive, 2011 Rihanna-collaboration, “We Found Love,” to break him Stateside.
Since then, an irresistible run of dance-pop hits has crowned him as the world’s top paid DJ, with a Las Vegas residency, a steamy Calvin Klein underwear ad, and high-profile romances with pop chanteuses like Rita Ora and Taylor Swift further expanding Harris’ brand.
Having reached the apex of the EDM empire, Harris uses his fifth album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, to experiment with nu-disco. While his former compositions bounced with big beat exuberance fit for cavernous clubs, the ten languid, tropical songs on this compact collection are aimed at sound-tracking summer barbecues and chilled, stoner beach parties.
To achieve his new sound, Harris traded his normally-British cast of rotating vocalists (Ellie Goulding, John Newman) for rap and R&B heavyweights (Snoop Doog, Migos), infusing each Funk track with a decidedly hip-hop flavor. Unfortunately, most of these new collaborators fail to deliver. Pharrell adds the excellent, silky smooth hook to the “Get Lucky”-esque “Heatstroke,” but similar attempts by John Legend and Nicki Minaj fizzle rather than sizzle. Contributions from the occasional pop vocalist are especially underwhelming: Katy Perry’s dreadful, “baby, I know you ain’t afraid to catch feels” chorus to “Feels,” surely has Harris’ former flame (and Katy Perry-antagonist), Taylor Swift, cackling.
Strangely, it’s the lesser-known talents who shine brightest on Funk. Up-and-coming Oakland hip-hop singer, Kehlani, rap-sings with convincing spite on “Faking It,” while Canadian newbie, Jessie Reyez, ups the emotional ante when she sings, “I’d rather be hard to love than easy to leave,” in album-closing slow-jam, “Hard to Love.” Harris’ quirky vocal, which previously powered hits like, “I’m Not Alone” and “Summer” is also conspicuous in its absence.
Despite the album’s shortcomings, Funk succeeds in providing a relatively cohesive summer playlist that connects with fans: the album debuted at #2 in both the U.S. and the U.K. Whether Harris has permanently traded dance-y beats for tropical vibes remains to be seen (although the Vol. 1 in the title suggests as much), but for now, EDM’s Golden Boy can light a spliff and bask in the summery glow of his continued success.