One half of Silk Sonic, Bruno Mars, is so big that he doesn’t need an introduction. He’s been an A-lister for more than ten years now, which in 2021 might as well make him a veteran. Hit making songwriter, superstar producer, great voice, great instrumentalist, everything he does is kind of perfect, arguably to a fault. His music is often very safe, which isn’t inherently bad, but the fact that it is so void in any mess or edge has sometimes lead to his music being a little uninteresting and lacking in character.
On the other side of the coin, Anderson Paak is a charismatic and multitalented singer, rapper, producer, and drummer mainly involved in soul and funk. He’s developed a pretty strong fanbase and earned a lot of respect in the industry but, at least before Silk Sonic, he’s not a household name, especially not like Mars - your friends have a good chance of knowing him but your parents certainly don’t. Most of his well known songs are actually collaborations on other people’s work, and I kind of think that’s where his best material lies. There’s a certain ease and relaxed feeling to a lot of his music, which works great as a feature, but on his own music I feel like a lot of times it never properly comes together.
Shortly after the announcement of the super duo’s formation was the release of their debut single “Leave The Door Open”. I’ll talk about the content of the music later, but what’s important to know is that the song is incredible and was instantly loved commercially and critically. My partner said her coworkers thought the song was actually a cover - the song sounded so much like a classic that people assumed it already existed. Needless to say, Silk Sonic had already set up high expectations, and with every new single and the longer wait anything less than outstanding would make the album the most disappointing of the year, a title currently given to Lorde’s “Solar Power”. But, my god, “An Evening With Silk Sonic” stuck the landing.
Framed as a concert or special event, even including Bootsy Collins as a special guest host, Silk Sonic calls upon the golden age of old school Motown, taking the listener back in time to reexperience 60’s and 70’s funk, soul, and R&B. One could criticize this as worshipping the past and not doing anything new, but I think “An Evening With Silk Sonic” escapes this for a few reasons: a) Mars and Paak seem to have a genuine love and understanding of the eras they’re pulling from, b) they’re taking from many different influences and making it their own instead of just copying one or two specific artists, and c) the songs are just really fucking good. The quality of the writing is top notch and elevated even further with the incredible production, with warm brass, pristine strings, groovy drums and percussion, funky bass, beautiful bells, colorful keys, jaw dropping guitar solos, and incredible call and responses (I’d argue the best way to sing to this album is singing along with the response vocals). There’s probably no other pair of mainstream artists right now that can capture the spirit and sound of this era than them, and every song here sounds like it could have been a single.
The songs themselves are great, but what takes it to the extra level is the specific pairing of Mars and Paak. Anderson said that Bruno considers every detail of each song such as theme, sound, and structure while he plays more off of the vibe and freestyles, and it really shows. Each track feels loose and playful while still having a fantastic foundation to make for a great song. Silk Sonic is great at bouncing between romantic intimacy, infectious hype, sexy flirtation, and outright humor (seriously, many of the funniest lines of the year have been on this album). There’s a sense that each member was encouraging the other to top themselves with every following line, and it leads to some of the best performances of either of their careers. Also, quick side note, Bruno has been trying to achieve what I can only describe as a “player” persona since at least “Uptown Funk”, and I don’t know whether its this style of music or Paak pulling it out of him but I feel like with this project he’s finally pulled it off. The pair just bring out the best in each other and I honestly hope this is how each of them create music from now on.
Frankly, my only issue with this album is that it’s so short - with only thirty minutes after waiting for almost a year and we’ve already heard over a third of it, it’s much less an evening with Silk Sonic and more like a coffee date with Silk Sonic. But still, this is an absolute must listen for the year that is going to be hard to follow up, leaving me wanting more. Silk Sonic brought together two fantastic musicians in their own right and elevated both of them to the best versions of themselves, and Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak absolutely made this their year with “An Evening With Silk Sonic”.
*side note - thank you all for being patient with me while I took a break from formal reviews, hopefully this will be the start of me reviewing more regularly*