Calvin Harris brings the funk with his long-awaited fifth album
Scotland’s biggest musical export since The Proclaimers returns with his fifth album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, and what a welcome return it is from Calvin Harris. After a couple of albums that ventured into mainstream chart territory, with fun but somewhat predictable dance tunes, this new release shares a familiarity with Harris’ first two albums (I Created Disco and Ready for the Weekend) in its nostalgic approach to production. It's especially nice to listen to a Calvin Harris album that sounds closer to his earlier work, which harks back to 70s and 80s disco funk, but with a less electronic theme, unlike his debut I Created Disco.
'Slide', the lead single, features Frank Ocean (the first of many well-known guest artists) and a proper tasty funk-filled bassline. The other artists on ‘Slide’, Migos, give a taste of the vocoder rapping that becomes a common theme throughout the album, I'm not normally a fan of this use of the vocoder.
However, Calvin Harris seems to be creating a new contemporary sound to match the emergence of hip hop, combining disco and rap, like The Sugarhill Gang and others did in the late 70s/early 80s. Whilst it's hard to disassociate the vocoder sound with the usual chart tripe (it's completely different to the Daft Punk style) this is more like T Pain and Timbaland but with some tasty backing. That comparison may not immediately sell you on Harris’ use of vocoder, if you weren’t a fan of R&B/dance from the noughties then fair enough, but this is a record that features the style in a tasteful manner.
With the single ‘Heatstroke’, it is clear that these tracks will slot nicely into the charts, and for a change this feels like a good thing. If mainstream chart music keeps getting injections of disco and funk, hopefully more people will begin to appreciate and explore those genres. This is part of a change in the music industry, with other artists leading the way like Bruno Mars, Childish Gambino, and Justin Timberlake, spreading the groove to the masses. The power of nostalgia, and disillusion with chart music over the last decade, seems to be igniting a wide love of old school approaches to music - but that's for a whole other article, or I'll go off on a right bloody tangent.
There are a few moments on the album that feel unnecessary; Nicki Minaj’s rap in the middle of ‘Skrt On Me’ feels misplaced and predictable, but the album’s numerous strong points heavily outweigh the smaller weak moments. ‘Holiday’ has a great combo of Snoop Dogg (who sounds like he is revisiting his classic G-Funk days), Takeoff, and John Legend. This is one of the best tracks and has a nice old school R&B sound with a dose of soul. The final track on the album ‘Hard To Love’ features Jessie Reyez, whose Corinne Bailey Rae-style singing sets this apart from the vocals on the rest of the album - it is possibly my favourite track with its soulful sound and Gambino style beats. Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 may be built for chart success but, by replicating the groovy sounds of old and combining them with modern rap styles, this album feels like a fresh and well needed presence in 2017’s big name music releases.