An Evening With Silk Sonic review: Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak ride a retro soul train
The present is a mess; the future is an apocalyptic question mark. Can you blame Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak for looking backwards? As Silk Sonic, the duo style themselves as 21st-century ambassadors of the kind of retro-soul swagger whose mirror-ball heart belongs to transistor radios and roller discos, not streaming services. (Even their name, with its implied visions of slip-and-slide bedsheets and private jets, feels like onomatopoeia.) And the frazzled citizens of 2021 embraced it: Silk's first single, the sinuous hey-girl invitation "Leave the Door Open," held the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 twice this spring, and lingered in the top 10 for months.
Those are impressive stats for any act, particularly one that began as a goofy time-filler on the road between two tourmates. As if to offer his blessing, Bootsy Collins — part hype man, part fairy godfather — drops in to introduce their debut, An Evening With Silk Sonic, sprinkling his Funkadelic pixie dust and promising "to lock this groove in tight." Leading with "Door Open," a bedroom jam that sounds like it was beamed in from some lost Chi-Lites catalog and then passed through a Rick James lyric generator on the way, makes sense. With its falsettoed la-la-las and cascading couplets about fresh filets and rose petals in the bathtub, the song sets the tone for what's to come: a clutch of plush ballads and indecent proposals so persistently, unabashedly horny (in both senses of the word), they should probably come with their own birth control.
"Fly As Me" makes a blithe boogie-down case for game recognizing game, while "After Last Night" celebrates a girl so "sweet-sticky/thick and pretty" she might even make a dedicated player try on monogamy. "777" takes flight from a fuzzy funked-up bassline, a high-roller trip to a Las Vegas where the champagne buffet always flows and nobody loses at the baccarat table. Even Casanovas get the blues, though; "Smoking Out the Window" pines prettily for a girl who can't stop stepping out, and the shimmery, slow-rolling "Put on a Smile" traces tears-of-a-clown heartbreak.
But their mojo returns on the breezily old-school second single, "Skate": "In a room full of dimes, you would be a hundred dollars/If being fine was a crime, girl, they'd lock your lil' fine ass up in a tower," .Paak coos, booty-struck. He's an agile, elastic rapper and singer, though Mars' creative imprint looms large; the architect of a thousand radio hits, the Honolulu native is a songwriter so pristine and tuneful it almost feels bionic: Even on first listen his compositions tend to sound familiar, as if they were already hits in 1972 (or 1989, or last year).
The pair are clearly having fun with their loverman shtick here — a knowing throwback to a more-cowbell era when all the cars were Monte Carlos, the lamps were lava, and #MeToo was but a distant, joy-killing dream. Mostly that comes through with an obvious wink; other times it lands somewhere between Pepé Le Pew and Ron Burgundy on the self-awareness scale. But Silk didn't come to talk politics. They just want to take you out for a superfly Evening, and send you home basking in the afterglow. Grade: B+