Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak’s throwback soul duo Silk Sonic have officially dropped their debut LP, An Evening with Silk Sonic.
There is always time to talk about how bizarre it is for two of the most popular musicians in the world luring teenagers into the dulled tones of 1970s soul and soft rock. Mars and Paak might be channeling MFSB and Stevie Wonder, but there’s no hiding the fact that the softer material wavers dangerously close to yacht rock. Not that it’s a bad thing: everything on An Evening with Silk Sonic has so much slippery funk and infectious joy that even the cheesiest parts can’t help but impress.
‘Fly As Me’ is pure Earth, Wind, and Fire on the chorus, to the point where they should demand royalties for the way Mars and Paak stack their harmonies throughout. It’s pure ‘Shining Star’, and it’s glorious. ‘After Last Night’ brings Bootsy and Thundercat into the mix for a horny blast off into hazy delight. The immediate turn around to heartbreak on ‘Smokin Out the Window’ is an effective 180 degree turn that reiterates the album’s secret weapon: the duo’s humour. References to The Nutty Professor and Chuck E. Cheese’s keep the proceedings light and airy, even as Mars and Paak get nastier than they do anywhere else on the album.
Mars and Paak also know how to get in and out without overstaying their welcome. After ‘Put on a Smile’, ‘777’ and ‘Skate’ give us two more uptempo funk numbers to jolt our senses back to attention before closing out with one final ballad, ‘Blast Off’. The ballads are obviously what Mars and Paak have the most investment in, but it’s the quirky faster songs like ‘Fly As Me’, ‘777’, and ‘Skate’ that make the album dynamic. They’re closer to the modern R&B that Mars excels at, but it doesn’t betray the retro spirit of the album.
The employment of legendary Parliament-Funkadelic bassman Bootsy Collins as the album’s “host” is an inspired choice that plays well into the album’s throwback nature. What keeps the album from sounding like an offhand Halloween costume is the duo’s dedication to replicating the bygone sounds of the past, complete with vintage equipment, antiquated recording techniques, and dense arrangements that change key every few seconds without ever losing the plot.
The major pull of An Evening with Silk Sonic is how much loose fun is packed into just half an hour. Mars and Paak sounds like they’re having the time of their lives approximating their heroes, and the idea that there’s no such thing as being too over the top serves the silliness of the album well. This is impeccably arranged perfectionism that sounds off the cuff and spontaneous, a difficult task that Mars and Paak make seem easy.
The whole point of Silk Sonic is that it sounds explicitly like a specific moment in time. But since it’s a throwback played through the lease of two modern day masters of music, the results sounds weirdly timeless. But the purest fun that comes with An Evening with Silk Sonic is turning off your brain, turning down the lights, and letting the retro soul wash over you in all its cheesy glory. It might be the least forward-looking album of the year by design, but it also might just be the most fun album of the year, which is way more important.