Genre: R&B, Soul
Favorite Tracks: “Leave the Door Open,” “After Last Night,” “Smokin Out the Window”
Before leveling a shred of criticism at Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s new collaborative project, AN EVENING WITH SILK SONIC, it’s important to acknowledge that this album absolutely delivers on its stated premise. From the goofy pastiche of its SOUL TRAIN inspired videos, to the omnipresent grins on both artists’ faces throughout the promotional press run, Silk Sonic promised nothing more or less than a joyous, tongue-in-cheek romp through a legendary period in Black American music, a period and style which both owe a direct, substantial artistic debt.
A great deal of care and attention has gone into the construction of the experience AN EVENING WITH SILK SONIC delivers, reverence evident in every aspect of the music. Legendary bassist and genre titan Bootsy Collins blesses the duo with a pitch-perfect name and legitimacy by way of scene setting throughout. Fearing the death of live performance, the tape was recorded to evoke the sounds and atmosphere a stage show delivers, from the breathtaking production and instrumental performances to the shared microphones in the recording booth and era-accurate drum skins. The result is a breezy, low-stakes project that acts as a nostalgic balm to those in the know, and a polished summarization of a celebrated era in music to those who aren’t.
As a young man without much firsthand experience with the genres being celebrated by Silk Sonic, there’s still much to appreciate and enjoy about the record. The smoldering emotion and rich piano and percussion crescendos on “Put on a Smile” back achingly beautiful vocal performances from both artists, particularly notable for the full bodied falsetto Mars hits on the back end of the track. “Leave the Door Open” and “Smokin Out the Window” are twin gems, featuring more layered instrumentation and a delightful commitment to hamming it up that only goes over as well as it does thanks to .Paak’s well-honed ability to deliver cheeky lines with beaming confidence and a 100-watt smile.
If there was only going to be one feature, they made a great choice with fellow ‘70s torchbearer Thundercat—“After Last Night” is a sensual dream, underscored by his backing vocals and immaculate basslines. But it would’ve been thrilling to see what other modern artists could do in the soulful, sepia-toned space Silk Sonic constructed here. It really can’t be overstated how much fun this album is to listen to, and at just 30 minutes, the replay value and brevity make for a project I envision in playlists for years to come.
All that praise aside, there is a distinct sense that the polished veneer of AN EVENING WITH SILK SONIC got one coat too many. As the artists acknowledged in a recent Ebro Darden interview, a lot of money was invested in this project and its accompanying rollout, and a lot more is expected off the back of an eventual tour. Essentially, Silk Sonic is too big to fail, and as a result the album feels a lot like the first Disney-helmed Star Wars film: a risk-free retread meant more as a proof of concept for future endeavors rather than a standalone statement. That it succeeds while attempting to appeal to the broadest possible demographic is testament to the myriad talents of Bruno and Anderson, but the album still falls short of its enormous potential. Two of the three best tracks were spoiled as singles, and on an eight track record, giving that much of the game up made the whole project land with less heft. It’s also lyrically shallow; that’s hardly a complaint especially given the lighthearted mission statement, but the generic lovesick tales and expressions of desire do limit the ambition of these tracks. Ultimately, the album can only be considered a success, and, like Disney’s Star Wars productions, the listening public can hopefully count on that success leading to more ambition on future offerings.