The past decade has seen no shortage of joint albums from music’s biggest stars. Drake & Future’s What A Time To Be Alive, Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett’s Cheek to Cheek and Love for Sale, Faith Hill & Tim McGraw’s The Rest of Our Life, the list goes on. Dating back to the 1960s, there have also been albums from supergroups where individual artists join forces under a new moniker for new music. More recently we’ve been treated to releases like The Carters’ Everything Is Love (Beyoncé & Jay-Z), The Throne’s Watch the Throne (Jay-Z & Kanye West), Jack Ü’s Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü (Skrillex & Diplo), and Black Hippy’s various album/song appearances (Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q & Jay Rock). Silk Sonic, comprised of 11x Grammy-winner Bruno Mars and 4x Grammy-winner Anderson .Paak, not only walks in the legacy of the supergroup but also in the legacy of Philadelphia Soul and 70s R&B legends like The Delfonics.
When the duo unleashed their monster lead single, “Leave The Door Open,” it was clear from the first few drum hits that they had one of the biggest songs of the year on their hands. Since its release, “Leave The Door Open,” has peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, scored a 2x Platinum certification from the RIAA, won a Bulletin Award, and garnered over one billion streams from just Spotify and YouTube. “Leave The Door Open” was one of the best songs of 2021 back in March, and that remains the case in November. The song perfectly combined homage with the winking cheekiness that has become an integral part of Bruno’s image and musical brand. As for the album as a whole, An Evening With Silk Sonic is a succinct and mostly satisfying listen. Nevertheless, Bruno and Anderson end up delivering hollow imitations of their influences instead of using that foundation to truly innovate.
Beginning with “Silk Sonic Intro,” Bruno and Anderson recruit Grammy-winning music icon Bootsy Collins, who came up with the Silk Sonic name, for a sultry and light-hearted entry into the luxurious world of the superduo. An Evening With Silk Sonic quite literally sounds luxurious. From the very first millisecond, the two musicians center masterful engineering. With Serban Ghenea behind the board for the mix, every individual background vocal falls off the bone. The towers of background vocals act as instruments in the same way that the congas, viola, sitar, and guitar do on various tracks throughout the album. They wash over the tracks like gentle waves and usher in a distinctly analog mood. As performers and musicians that prioritize live instrumentation, Bruno and Anderson use a cornucopia of instruments to flesh out their musical universe. “Leave The Door Open,” still sounds as magical as ever. The erotic and cheeky invitation to a night alone with Bruno and Anderson takes on a more important role as the first full-length song on the record. At just eight full-length songs, An Evening With Silk Sonic is a rarity in today’s music landscape. In 2021, it’s almost uncommon to not see albums with gargantuan 20+ song tracklists. Silk Sonic’s biggest win outside of the gorgeous engineering of the album, is their ability to flesh out an entire storyline in just eight tracks and thirty minutes. An Evening With Silk Sonic follows the course of a relationship that morphs from a fateful night of lust to the frustrations and pressures of actually making the whole thing work. From the schmaltzy “After Last Night” to the tremendous “Put On A Smile,” the narrative moves briskly, but the intricacies of each song’s arrangement make the most of every second. These eight songs aren’t sub-two-minute blitzes tailor-made for TikTok virality, these are fully-realized tracks with bridges, multiple verses, punchy hooks, key changes, and more.
As tight as An Evening With Silk Sonic is, the album has clear points where there is a Silk Sonic sound and a Bruno/Anderson sound. The album’s singles (“Leave The Door Open,” “Skate,” and “Smokin Out The Window”) are great examples of the Silk Sonic sound. Bruno and Anderson arrive at the sweet spot of their two styles. Anderson’s drum-based gritty hip-hop-soul marries beautifully with Bruno’s sparkly vocal-based pop sheen. On the other hand, “Fly As Me” sounds like an Anderson record that Bruno hopped on, and “Put On A Smile” sounds like a Bruno record that Anderson hopped on. This isn’t to say that either record is bad or less enjoyable than the singles (they’re better), but they do take you out of the idea that Silk Sonic is a separate musical entity from the two artists that comprise the superduo. Nonetheless, there really isn’t a low point on An Evening With Silk Sonic outside of “777.” “Fly As Me” utilizes chunky bass guitar to soundtrack some great rap verses for Anderson. It’s great hearing him rap again, and his flow changes and enunciation help make up for the lackluster chorus. “After Last Night” finds Bruno and Anderson pining for the woman that rocked their world the previous night. The Thundercat and Bootsy Collins-featuring track uses lush string arrangements to inspire some level of sensuality, but lyrics like “that gushy gushy good, girl, I want some more / Sweet, sticky, thick and pretty / You changed the game,” just inspire laughter. The album really hits its pocket when the mood dips into the melancholy with “Smokin Out The Window” and “Put On A Smile.” For the latter, Bruno and Anderson recruit the legendary Babyface for a song that is worthy of standing in the legacy of the iconic “men in R&B begging and belting in the rain” music video trope. Bootsy Collins even says it himself in the drizzling intro, “Ain’t no shame beggin’ in the rain!” The heart-bursting key change and sweeping instrumentation are reminiscent of Bruno’s own “Too Good To Say Goodbye.” The guy loves a good power ballad.
An Evening With Silk Sonic is genuine fun — a necessity in a world that is constantly under the pressure of at least three compounding crises at any given time. It’s also an exceptionally well-made album in an era where artists are getting lazy with their mixes. With that being said, the album falls flat because, although this is some of Bruno’s best work, it’s a far cry from Anderson’s best. Silk Sonic spends the duration of the album sounding like a really talented cover band instead of the union of two powerhouse musicians. Artists like Lucky Daye (Painted) and Victoria Monét (Jaguar) have pulled from similar eras and influences, and put their own unique imprint on the sound and prioritized innovation over imitation. Here’s where Bruno becomes one of Silk Sonic’s biggest obstacles. So much of Bruno’s career has been filled with homages to different artists and eras of music, and it’s only gotten more intense as the years have gone by. He frequently assumes the sound and stylistics of a given era and makes music that sounds good, but doesn’t actually bring anything new to the table. In the same way that 24K Magic was an admirable entry point into the world of New Jack Swing, An Evening With Silk Sonic assumes a similar role for the world of 70s R&B. After the album is done, you’re better off reaching for the real thing instead of hitting the play button another time.
Key Tracks: “Put On A Smile” | “Leave The Door Open” | “After Last Night”