REVIEW: Silk Sonic - An Evening With Silk Sonic
Updated: Feb 1, 2022
Favorite Track: "Skate" Least Favorite Track: "Silk Sonic Intro"
On March 28, 2017, one of the highest grossing concert tours in the world began, featuring the notoriously talented and sensual American singer-songwriter Bruno Mars. This nearly two year long tour, celebrating his third full-length album 24k Magic as well as songs from Unorthodox Jukebox and Doo-Wops & Hooligans, raked in over $367 million and received countless awards, and certainly established Bruno Mars’ as a groundbreaking and legendary touring artist. Spreading over North America, South America, Asia, and Europe, Mars and his band The Hooligans featured some incredible opening acts, including Boyz II Men, Demi Lovato, Dua Lipa, Jorja Smith, Camila Cabello, and even the high-profile breakdancing crew, the Jabbawockeez. For the first leg of this tour, Bruno Mars desired an artist who could emulate the funky and soulful vibes he was to showcase through his show; therefore, he drafted an artist who had just released one of the most timeless hip hop/R&B projects of 2016, entitled Malibu. Anderson .Paak and his Free Nationals were making themselves out to be quite the supergroup, incorporating hip hop, R&B, funk, and soul into an incredible culmination of groove and elation. Bruno Mars reveled at the sight of Anderson .Paak singing and drumming at the same time, engaging in a friendship born out of the desire to just jam and compose with each other. In fact, coming out of the European leg of the tour, the two jokingly mentioned they formed a duo, and it wouldn’t be until five years later that the joke became reality. Named by the fabled Funkadelic bassist Booty Collins, Silk Sonic shocked the world with their lead single “Leave The Door Open,” and eight months later, dropped one of the most sought after albums in 2021. On An Evening With Silk Sonic, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak spun together a modern 70’s soul homage with the fibers of chemistry, authenticity, remorselessness, and an overall appetite for fun.
Immediately following the release of An Evening With Silk Sonic, it has been criticized for being nothing more than a brandishing of 70’s soul, offering nothing experimental or new. Many believe Silk Sonic to be lazy and unoriginal; however, they neglect to look into what the two artists set out to make. Mars and .Paak never intended to revolutionize soul with this album or to completely replicate Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers, Earth Wind, and Fire, or Sly and the Family Stone. Instead, the various soul influences that the two have studied and consumed gave them the elements necessary to create an album that is above sampling 70’s soul music; rather, a consolidation of what this era means to them. No song captures that love better than the slick ballad “Leave The Door Open.” The Motown era instrument checklist is fulfilled, with strings, guitars, drums, percussion, layered harmonies, pianos, organs, and horns being used heavily across the entire track. It also contains many classic Motown era production qualities, such as strong rhythm, memorable hooks, inverted four-on-the-top beats, and instrumental breaks and hits. For example, Anderson .Paak sings “I’m talkin’ kissin’, cuddlin’, rose petals in the bathtub girl let’s jump in it’s bubblin’,” and the band delves into instrumental breaks and hits to give more emphasis and delivery on this seductive line.
“Skate” is another song where we see Silk Sonic go above and beyond to present the 70’s sound, with an unbeatable disco, “go-go cage” instrumental perfect for a Saturday Night Fever themed roller rink night. Strings, congas, guitars, electric keyboards, chimes, and drums enter in a spacey, atmosphere, before the guitar, coupled with strings, plays an unmistakably funky riff to send the song into “A room full of dimes.” This is by far the most upbeat and joyful track on An Evening With Silk Sonic, capturing that 70’s “Summer of Love'' essence and bringing it to an era that needs it the most. The progression between the pre-chorus and chorus offers so much detail that it is hard to ignore. Descending and ascending instrumental breakdown hits are sounded off, answered by Mars and .Paak saying “I’m tryna roll, I’m tryna ride/I’m tryna float, I’m tryna glide,” cueing Anderson .Paak to assure that skater girl with “No, no, don’t be shy, just take my hand and hold on tight.” Mars comes in with a potent “Oh, skate to me baby,” and the chorus line responds with “Skate,” to which Mars responds “Slide your way on over,” and so on. The playfulness of “Skate” reveals a lot of what Silk Sonic set out to do with the plethora of 70’s music before them. Moreover, the fourth track “Fly As Me” is a clear-cut funk groove, and another example of what Seventies music can inspire. Of course, having Bootsy Collins as an emcee AND collaborator doesn’t hurt. Mars and .Paak sing and rhyme about how lucky women would be to get involved with them, which is presented throughout this boastful, witty head banger. “One, two, make you wanna, UH” is yelled before a powerfully groovy bass line and drum beat is established, incorporating organs, guitars, and horns in the mix that gives off a Funkadelic/Parliament vibe. Anderson .Paak dives into a ingenious rap verse, with lines like “Don’t need a spatula, everything catered, extra flavor/Go ‘head, sprinkle some truffle on your mashed potatoes.” Again, the attention to detail on the pre-chorus is reminiscent of people like Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Prince, and Rick James, with a tight guitar/bass breakdown followed by a dissonant yet alluring harmonization of “I don’t ask for much/I just want what’s fair/I’ll bring that fire and desire, baby/All you gotta do is meet me halfway there.”
When we think back to some of the greatest collaborations in music, one guiding principle stands out: chemistry breeds organic and pure music, and nobody in the modern era has chemistry like Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. From their silly, brotherly banter on Twitter and Instagram to the way they sing “Leave The Door Open” live together, it is the general love and respect that they have for each other that makes An Evening With Silk Sonic such a repeatable and captivating project. Where that chemistry is felt the most is on “After Last Night (with Thundercat & Bootsy Collins).” The way these two play off of each other as they ache for a repeat with the girl they hooked up with last night says a lot about how they went about creating tracks like this; letting their desires and emotions write the music for them. Incorporating Bootsy Collins’s witty one-liner inputs and Thundercat’s thick bass playing, the song is dangerously seductive, as these four geniuses forge together the perfect horny-love poem. On verse two, Mars and .Paak sing “Cars, clothes, diamonds and gold/Anything you want, any place you want/We’ll fly, fly yeah,” with those final “Fly’s” ascending up major 2nd’s and major 4th’s in a very climatic and passionate manor. Not too mention, the song’s energy and drive kicks into overdrive near the bridge, modulating keys and bringing out all of the pent up feelings inside these downbad brothers as well as some impressive instrumental moments, like Thundercat and .Paak’s insane bass and drum breakdown after “Woke up and I can’t get you out of my head.” The third single released “Smokin Out The Window” shows that collusion between the two, as they sing about being left out in the cold by someone who doesn’t put any effort into the relationship romantically. The way Mars and .Paak exchange approving responses to certain verses, like where .Paak questions “Baby, why you doin’ this? Why you doin’ this to me, girl?” and then exclaims “Not to be dramatic, but I wanna die.” The way Mars enters with “This bitch, got me payin’ her rent, payin’ for trips” reinforces the similar feelings he shares with .Paak and expressing his disdain for the woman making his friend feel like this. At one point, .Paak delves into an interlude, “Look here, baby, I hope you find whatever it is that you need/But I also hope, that your triflin’ ass is walkin’ round barefoot in these streets, Look out,” sending Mars into the bridge singing “Girl, it breaks my heart that you ain’t right here with me/Now I gotta give you back/To the city, oh, you got me,” which is an expert way the two play off each other’s words.
Speaking of the bridge, Silk Sonic knows the importance of one. Having that section in the music offers contrasting material, but also provides a different route to the final chorus is crucial, and keeps music from becoming too stagnant and repetitive. A lot of the music today falters on this important piece, which clues into why An Evening With Silk Sonic is so omnifarious to the 2021 industry. Look at “Skate” for example. Bruno Mars hits that infectious second chorus, “Skate to me, baby (Skate)/I wanna get to know ya (I wanna get to know ya).” The chord progression modulates up a minor 3rd, with the string section giving us a beautiful glissando to introduce Anderson .Paak explaining “I never fall, but tonight, you got me fallin’ for you/And, only you, you.” Bruno Mars takes the next line, “I’m reachin’ out in hopes that you reach for me too/Girl, let’s groove,” and again the instrumental slides up another minor 3rd. The modulation coupled with the way Mars and .Paak sing more intimately makes for an interesting bridge, which in turn, makes “Skate” that much better of a song. The final track to An Evening With Silk Sonic, “Blast Off,” is this smooth, groovy tune to depict the “lift off” that psychedelics can bring. All in all, it is about reaching a higher state of being with someone you are enamored with. “Let’s tiptoe to a magical place (Come fly with me)/Blast off and kiss the moon tonight (To the moon and the stars above.” However, the bridge gives us a psychedelic, Jimi Hendrix-esque guitar solo, personifying that 70’s type euphoria so many were so eager to reach. Behind that, Bruno Mars harmonizes “Into the sky” repeatedly, before the drums and bass kick into busier fills to match the shredding chops from the guitarist. Here, the boys sing “Dance all night on Saturn’s rings/If you got some friends that you wanna bring, then come on/It’s time to take this party up and beyond,” giving the song an even more positive atmosphere. Lastly, the outro sees Bruno Mars asking “Can we take it higher?,” to which he responds “Oh, yeah/ Blasting off straight to some good vibrations,” all while modulating up in major 2nd enclosures to take the music to a place as high as the LSD trip has taken them.
Lastly, and most obviously, An Evening With Silk Sonic holds nothing back. Musically, lyrically, physically, and spiritually, Silk Sonic’s pure ecstasy in making music cannot and shouldn’t be dialed back to meet music industry normalities. For example, 777 is easily the most lively and amusing track across the album, and with a title that resembles a Las Vegas gambling term, it obviously should be fun. It’s almost as if they took Bruno Mars’s song “24k Magic” and Anderson .Paak’s “Mansa Musa (feat. Dr. Dre & Cocoa Sarai)” and combined them, producing a seriously groovy and entertaining song. .Paak’s verse is especially enjoyable, rapping “Ooh, just touched down, up a few thou’/Big booty hoes meet me in the penthouse/Bar full of liquor, cash for the strippers/It’s gon’ get weird tonight, so no pictures.” After all, he’s a “Pretty motherfucker with some money to blow,” who’s about to “buy Las Vegas after this roll,” and cleverly, has the band hit the accented chromatic hits on his “7-7-7” before shouting, “Let’s go” to signify a jackpot. On the other side of An Evening With Silk Sonic, you have songs that don’t hold back in terms of passion and emotion, with “Put On A Smile” being a clear-cut example. Rain/thunder audio fuzzes beneath some beautiful strings as “Uncle Bootsy” assures us there “Ain’t no shame beggin’ in the rain,” a nod to 90’s R&B musicians who released music videos of them singing in the rain after a heartbreak. The song is wildly sensual and gorgeous, with some pleasing tempo changes at the pre-chorus and chorus, where Bruno Mars sings how he is “Tryna put on a smile (Put on a smile)/Tryna fight these tears from cryin’/But lord knows I’m dyin’, dyin’.” Anderson .Paak joins him at the lyric “When the only thing worth smiling for,” and the band hits 16th notes to build up the intensity for Mars and .Paak to croon “You” over. It’s in the second chorus when the track is taken to another level, with a beautiful key change, a nutty .Paak drum fill, and Mars showing us his true vocal power in the higher register.
Two of the greatest musicians of our time came together to conceive an album rich with groove, soul, and spirit. An Evening With Silk Sonic may be short, at just 31 minutes, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in quality, as each song presents instant serotonin to the listener. The musicality, the emotion, the raw energy, and the pureness of it cannot be measured in one listen. Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak have bestowed a 21st century musical staple; a project that is an inspiration to anyone searching for a reason to make music in the first place. Ultimately, being authentic and upbeat is how you serve the music correctly, and how you devise an album as astonishing as An Evening With Silk Sonic.