Calvin Harris’s Fun, Frivolous “Feels” Is Worth it for the Pharrell Verses Alone
If you’ve been following this year’s trickle of stylishly nostalgic singles from Calvin Harris, you already have a pretty good idea of what “Feels,” his latest, sounds like. The production is a skillful melange of sounds from the mid-70s apex of analog recording, the era of disco and yacht rock: a warm and rounded bassline, some Nile Rodgers-style guitar, a slick descending line on Fender Rhodes. As on “Heatstroke,” there’s an overstuffed guest list of vocalists; this time, it’s Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, and Big Sean.
With their powers combined, those three are in grave danger of summoning a Captain America of corniness. That they manage to avoid that fate is mostly thanks to Pharrell, who’s the most at home on a funky and organic backing track like this one. Harris’s “Feels” production, a little crisper and more rhythmically excitable than that of the previous singles, harbors love for Williams’s classic 2000s work with the Neptunes alongside its vintage fetishism. Pharrell’s verses come first, and he throws himself into them with aplomb, hitting a slinky built-in hook on the second half that turns out to be more memorable than the song’s limpid actual chorus. (Never mind lyrics that are cliched to the point of near-meaninglessness: “Nothing ever lasts forever, no / One minute you’re here, and the next you’re gone.”)
That aforementioned chorus comes via Perry, whose presence is a little surprising, given Harris’s obvious recent aspirations toward hipness. She wisely stays away from her “Firework” soar, opting instead for the awkward swagger of fizzled recent singles “Swish Swish” and “Bon Apétit.” It works a little better here than it did on those songs, but not by a lot.
From a songwriting perspective, “Feels” is a little flimsy, but the groove is unimpeachable. It misses the sublime heights of Harris’s Frank Ocean-featuring first single “Slide” by a wide margin, but is more enjoyable than “Heatstroke and “Rollin.” It will sound great by the pool for the next few months, even if you’ve already forgotten it by the time next summer comes around.