Music Reviews
An Evening with Silk Sonic

Silk Sonic An Evening with Silk Sonic

(Aftermath / Atlantic) Rating - 6/10
Not all music has to have something to say. Not all music needs to plunder the depths of the human experience. Not all music has to try and advance the artform through experimentation. Music can be for background noise, for fun, for dancing or, even, for nothing at all. Yet still it seems difficult to understand why An Evening with Silk Sonic has been made. The supergroup’s two members, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, already have successful solo careers where they’ve proved adept at mining the past for radio-friendly R&B hits with a splash of hip-hop. They don’t need Silk Sonic any more than we do.
But then again, maybe this is just the music critic’s over-intellectualisation of a bunch of songs that sound like they just want to have a good time. Does there need to be anything deeper? And besides, grabbing a friend and cosplaying as a duo you’d expect to see on Soul Train sounds like a great way to ride out a global pandemic—who wouldn’t want that? Plus, there’s still a chance that this could be the key to immortality. The biggest tracks of the last decade, the ones that will be generation gap-melting wedding staples for years to come, are songs like Get Lucky, Happy and Uptown Funk (which of course features Mars on vocals). If you want your tunes to live forever more, an uplifting soul/disco hybrid looks to be a good bet.
The conceit of the album is that Bootsy Collins is inviting you to spend, yes, An Evening with Silk Sonic. It’s a decent idea, and hearing Collins’ space-fried incantations always lends an extra dimension to a project, but it’s one that’s barely explored past the introductory track. There’s a missed opportunity to frame Silk Sonic as a long-lost hit-making machine from the 1970s, drawing parallels to Donnie and Joe Emerson’s Dreamin’ Wild, but Mars and .Paak don’t really follow through. Sadly, that proves to be a theme of the record.
For songwriters who sometimes seem to conjure indelible melodies out of thin air, An Evening with Silk Sonic suffers from a paucity of ideas. Its nine tracks barely break the half hour mark, yet there’s still evidence of recycling. The record seeks inspiration from American soul, R&B, disco and funk of the 1960s and 1970s—an almost endless resource to tap into—as well as the early days of hip-hop, but still the same ideas surface more than once. Put On a Smile and lead single Leave the Door Open share so much of the same DNA you wonder if they started life as the same song. Lyrically, the themes are different, and Put On a Smile features a co-writing credit and backing vocals from Babyface but, on a stronger record, there’d only be space for one of them. Similarly, Fly As Me and 777 are both P-Funk lite with a family-friendly take on rap self-aggrandisement that would have sounded tired in the 1990s, let alone now.
Clearly, you don’t have the kind of careers Mars and .Paak have had thus far without outstanding talent—and it’s worth noting that when they get it right, they get it really, really right. Discounting the fact it’s rehashed later in the record, Leave the Door Open is outstanding—a seductive ballad whose honeyed harmonies recall the best moments of The Stylistics while still leaving room for .Paak’s taut drum fills. Skate is the kind of breezy disco you’ve heard a million times before but wins through on sheer enthusiasm. It takes a special kind of charm to sell the line, “You smell better than a barbecue,” and make it sound like a sincere compliment, and yet Mars manages to pull it off. And what’s more, he does so while playing the congas. Production team The Stereotypes lend their talents to After Last Night and it proves to be the furthest Silk Sonic deviate from their rigid template. Their touch, plus a typically aqueous bassline courtesy of Thundercat, provide a tantalising glimpse of what could have been.
After spending An Evening with Silk Sonic, it feels like we’re still no closer to discovering the reasoning behind it. It’s not cynical and calculated enough to be a shameless cash-grab yet it’s not self-indulgent enough to be a vanity project. Perhaps it’s just a stopgap in the catalogues of two big-selling artists; an intended homage to the music that made Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. They’re making this music because they like it, because they want to, and because they can. It doesn’t matter a damn what we think.