Nov 24, 2021
By Caleb Campbell
Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak are a match made in heaven, and that fact has not been lost on them. The pair first linked up when Paak opened for Mars on his 2017 tour and they began to jam, later reconnecting in early 2020 to bring their collaboration to life. Dubbed Silk Sonic by funk legend Bootsy Collins一who also acts as master of ceremonies on the record一the pair embarked upon an album-length tribute to the sounds of the 1970s.
The choice to turn back the clock to the ‘70s is not exactly a surprising one for Mars and Paak. Both artists are well-documented ‘70s aficionados, but the commitment to accuracy runs deeper than ever on An Evening With Silk Sonic. Mars and Paak have meticulously recreated Motown-era aesthetics, down to the mic placement and drum skins. The result is more reenactment than pastiche, with the band recreating strains of R&B, soul, and funk with the intense attention to detail of an obsessive fan.
Much like those Motown greats, everything sounds slick, expensive, and polished. It’s immediately evident how much effort went into these tracks, both on the production and songwriting side of the equation. Though it’s just barely over 30 minutes with eight tracks and a short intro, not a moment is wasted. Each arrangement is meticulously constructed and filled with rich detail, each song exploring a different artistic muse. Even the record’s sequencing feels intentional, following the arc of a mesmerizing live show. The band’s love for their artistic antecedents invites the kind of study usually reserved for wordy singer/songwriter fare, bringing along plenty of allusions and musical reference points ready to unpack.
As much as the record is a love letter to the era though, it’s also quite simply a killer set of songs. Mars and Paak are both consummate performers and both have never sounded better than as Silk Sonic. Paak’s edgier style is a perfect fit for the braggadocious funk stylings of “Fly With Me” and the wild James Brown howls of “777,” while Mars’ smooth lover-man persona has never been as seductive as on “Leave the Door Open” and “After Last Night.”
Each song acts as a tour of a different corner of the band’s chosen era. “Leave the Door Open” conjures the luxuriant symphonic harmonies of Philly soul groups like The O’Jays. “Put On a Smile” sees the band essentially remaking “The Tracks of My Tears,” with Mars’ voice soaring high into his falsetto for a performance worthy of Smokey Robinson. Later, the record veers into disco for “Skate” and finishes off with a stratospheric explosion of psychedelic soul on “Blast Off.” As much as the group plays with genre though, they also remain remarkably cohesive, all without retreading the same ideas.
The other constant on the record is how much Paak and Mars are hamming it up throughout. The figures they inhabit almost veer into parody, casting them as cartoonishly wealthy players spending extravagantly on the night’s chosen paramour. There are lines here that walk the line between tongue-in-cheek and corny, most notably “I can smell your sweet perfume/You smell better than a barbecue,” but Paak and Mars play it all admirably straight, leading to plenty of fun moments. The one glimpse of vulnerability, “Put on a Smile,” is just as quickly followed up with Mars and Paak clearing out casinos on the driving funk of “777.”
Ultimately, your tolerance for that winking humor likely will be the limiting factor for whether you’ll be buying return tickets to An Evening With Silk Sonic. However, the hammy personas do work well as a tribute to an era with its own set of larger-than-life personalities. If you’re willing to go along for the ride, Paak crooning “not to be dramatic, but I wanna die” will almost certainly crack a smile. In the world of Silk Sonic, the champagne never stops flowing, the grooves go all night long, and everybody is having a great time. It doesn’t get much more complicated than that, and it doesn’t need to. Take the trip back in time and you’ll find escapist pop at its finest. (www.silksonic.com)
Author rating: 8.5/10
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