Seventies R&B makes a comeback: An Evening With Silk Sonic


“Silk Sonic? I’ve never heard of them. Why are they on top of the charts right now?”

That might be your reaction to hearing of the new musical project for the first time—it certainly was mine. It becomes less surprising when you realize that half of the group consists of Bruno Mars, one of the past decade’s most prominent hitmakers. The same soulful voice and swagger that’s earned him seven solo number-one hits is out in full force on Silk Sonic’s debut album, “An Evening With Silk Sonic”.

The other part of the duo, rapper Anderson Paak, is less recognizable to most people. That’s not to say he hasn’t had a successful career up to this point (though I did have to scroll for quite a bit on his Spotify page to find an image nonidentical to “An Evening’s” cover art). J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Andre 3000 all featured on his last two albums, which don’t sound dissimilar to “An Evening”: a blend of 70’s R&B-inspired pop-rap. although a little rougher on the edges. That’s where Mars might come in—for better or for worse, making slick, radio-friendly songs is what turned him into a millionaire dozens of times over.

When listening to their debut album, it’s easy to understand why Silk Sonic decided to call themselves such. “An Evening’s” songs are soft and easy on the ears, prompting the listener to resonate with the duo’s emotive vocals. Unfortunately for Silk Sonic, “soft and easy” doesn’t always mean “enjoyable.” Background harmonies, pillowy chords, and a vaguely jazzy bassline can get you through two or three tracks, but soon you’re going to be wanting more. 

To be fair, “An Evening’s” first attempt at this trick comes off very well. Lead single “Leave The Door Open” sees Mars’ voice rise as he pleads with the object of his desires, a piano matching his increasingly anguished falsetto. After the ballad peaks, it lingers—Mars’ melodic “la la la”s and twinkling percussion make for an almost psychedelic closing stretch. It’s no wonder “Leave The Door Open” hit number one back in April, and it’s no wonder why Mars and Paak decided to pack the tracklist with emulations. None, from “Smokin Out The Window” to “Put On A Smile,” captures the original’s charm, simply recycling the same choral haziness and ascending vocals to diminishing effect. 

“An Evening’s” title is another not-so-subtle way of setting the album’s mood. It aims to establish the atmosphere of a small, sophisticated venue—perhaps a refined whiskey bar where the bourbon goes down as smooth as the music. Of course, this is overkill. The album’s production is already drenched in reverb, and its crisply mixed drums do manage to sound live. These aren’t necessarily bad things, and Mars and Paak do figure out how to use them to their advantage. “Blast Off,” the closing track and album highlight, has an airiness to it that invites the listener along for the ride. “Let’s tiptoe to a magical place,” Mars repeatedly croons on top of a lush orchestra and guitar solo that makes you feel like you’re already there.

An ode to Vegas gambling, “777” ironically might represent Silk Sonic better than any other track. While the pair has so far painted themselves as romantic do-gooders bound to love’s whims, here they eschew the nice-guy-isms completely. It’s refreshing to finally hear them shed this grating persona, fully owning their egos. Luckily, they have the confidence to pull it off. Paak’s rapping here is the best on the project, his flow assisted by a gritty retro-bass and frenetic drum pattern. “Pretty motherf****r with some money to blow/I’m ‘bout to buy Las Vegas after this roll” he exclaims, before launching into a chorus filled with Rocky-esque horns. It exemplifies exactly what Silk Sonic is at its best: effortlessly cool and musically funky, without a pretense of cleanliness.

It wouldn’t be a true Bruno Mars album if its primary focus wasn’t girls: girls who take up all of your mind, girls who play hard to get, girls who run circles around you and leave you spinning. And if not for the plethora of underdeveloped and cringe-inducing lyrics, a few of the songs might be up to snuff with Mars’ and Paak’s best work. “After Last Night” features a sultry, groovy intro and first verse that is immediately ruined by “That gushy, gushy good, girl, I want some more/Sweet, sticky, thick and pretty.” Could they really not have come up with some less connotative adjectives?

A pair of eyebrow-raising lines in “Smokin Out The Window” comes across like a strange form of product placement: “Must’ve spent thirty five, forty five thousand up in Tiffany’s/got her badass kids runnin’ ’round my whole crib like it’s Chuck E. Cheese.” Aside from the out-of-place comparison to the arcade chain, why is Silk Sonic calling young children “badass”? It’s one of many half-baked lines on the record that suggest Mars and Paak may have forgotten to copy-edit. Whatever, it is the seventies after all: we’ll chalk it up to the cocaine.