By Sammy Bovitz
When the music supergroup now known to the world as Silk Sonic was first announced in February, I was very intrigued by the concept. While Bruno Mars wasn’t an all-time favorite, I couldn’t deny that songs like “24K Magic,” “Locked Out Of Heaven,” and “Just the Way You Are” were smash hits for a reason. Mars is one of the few modern artists that makes music practically anyone can get into, even if he often lacks an element of uniqueness behind his tracks. Enter Anderson.Paak, an R&B artist with a knack for unique jams but a lack of mainstream success relative to Mars. This duo had a ton of potential, and the announcement was a very exciting one for me. Together, they announced the supergroup’s first single, “Leave The Door Open” and released it on March 5th, 2021.
Now, judging by the group’s 1970s R&B feel and the duo’s respective talents, I knew this song was going to be pretty solid, but didn’t expect how big it was going to be commercially. As I have now learned, doubting Bruno Mars was one of the worst ideas I’d ever had. This song easily reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is already certified 2x platinum. After a few music award performances of the single throughout the spring, Silk Sonic released their second single, “Skate,” on July 30th. This quicker-tempo song showed this supergroup was willing and able to switch it up. Both initial singles were easy additions to any pop or R&B fan’s playlist, though “Skate” didn’t quite make the same impact as “Leave the Door Open” despite being just as catchy.
On Mars’ birthday, October 8th, the supergroup confirmed the release date of their full-length album An Evening with Silk Sonic as November 12th, with “Leave The Door Open” and “Skate” slotted into tracks 2 and 8 respectively. Finally, they released the infectious “Smokin’ Out the Window” on November 5th. The song had been teased for months and struck a fascinating middle ground between the faster pace of “Skate” and the slower jam of “Leave the Door Open,” featuring a bigger emphasis on the pre-chorus and hook than the previous songs. But that wasn’t a bad thing, as the hook was possibly the most memorable one yet.
Along with the creatively titled “Silk Sonic Intro,” clocking in at a brisk yet breezy 1 minute, we were already exposed to 4 of the album’s 9 tracks before the 31-minute project was even scheduled to release. The group’s sound seemed so addictive and fun that switching up their formula just enough made for a trio of great singles and an intro that perfectly introduced the listener to the group’s premise and stylistic quirks. But now that we have the full-length project on our hands, how did it turn out?
An Evening With Silk Sonic is one of the smoothest, most entertaining albums of the year. Its short runtime and lack of features allow the group to focus on the talents of Mars and Paak, who make sure the album never dips in quality. It’s clear that the three singles were picked very carefully, as they are easily the most radio-friendly, and in that way more casual fans of Silk Sonic’s work might be a bit disappointed that not every track is as big of a showstopper as “Leave The Door Open.” But that is absolutely not to say the five tracks we had yet to hear weren’t worth the wait.
“Fly as Me” and “777” are Paak-style funk refined with a twist of Bruno Mars, and I absolutely loved them. Faster-paced, looser Silk Sonic tracks were something I’d been waiting for since “Skate,” and this duo absolutely delivers on that promise with these two. Placed as tracks 3 and 7, they seem to be positioned as the album’s B-sides since they lean a bit further towards Paak’s solo discography, which is of course less popular than Mars’. Still, they somehow feel like hidden gems despite having just come out. These two tracks won’t be the ones fans will go out of their minds to hear live, but they’re fantastic in their own right.
“After Last Night” was probably the weakest song on the album, but not because the actual lyrics or production was worse than the rest of the album. It’s just that the song’s prolonged intro– nearly a minute of speech from Bootsy Collins and an unnamed woman– is a little unnecessary and the only extra fat on an otherwise concise album. Still, if you can get past the intro, you’ll find another slow jam with luscious production and another chorus to get stuck in your head. This is definitely a song that will only be replayed by fans of the group, but luckily this album makes it that there will be no shortage of those.
“Put On A Smile” is easily one of my favorite tracks of the year. “Smokin’ Out The Window” is a tough act to follow, but this is probably the best slow jam on the whole album– even better than “Leave The Door Open.” This is where the group’s retro style shines the brightest. This song would feel right at home on an album from 1975, but the production is just modern enough that 2021 listeners will get it stuck in their head. Not only that, the hook is definitely the one you’ll find yourself belting off-key in the shower accidentally if you’re into that sort of thing. This song was the one that truly shows how talented and experienced Bruno Mars is at this point. His skills as a songwriter, producer, and vocalist all shine brightly here. I had to physically stop myself from just listening to this track again so I could finish the album.
“Blast Off” is a very respectable closer in the same vein as “Put On A Smile.” This song’s production feels grandiose and heavenly, yet still eases you into its flow– it’s this album’s version of 24K Magic’s “Versace On The Floor”. And then, Bruno Mars comes in. I couldn’t help myself from saying “wow” out loud as he began to sing. His voice is so impactful and is used so strategically on the album that almost every time he appears on a track, it feels like a grand entrance. This song is lavish, and thus, it overstays its welcome by perhaps 30 seconds. Still, the extra time feels earned by that point– the group has secured your trust, so this song could be seen as just letting you down nice and smooth rather than not quite living up to being the longest song on the album. This is the kind of closer that, as soon as it ends, makes you want to hit “play” on the album from track 1 all over again.
As for the four songs we’ve already heard, they’re all placed perfectly on the album itself. The “Silk Sonic Intro” is even better in the context of the eight full-length tracks that follow it. While it’s a bit disappointing that “Leave The Door Open” is the second track after we’ve all heard it a million times, there’s no denying that it stuck at number 1 for a reason. “Skate” is placed right after “777” to sustain a bit of momentum, and they’re sandwiched perfectly between the slow jams of “Put On A Smile” and “Blast Off.” And since “Smokin’ Out The Window” is the perfect middle ground between Mars, Paak, and the retro sound that they’re trying to emulate, it slots in perfectly as the midpoint of the album. All four tracks are better when placed in the context of the rest of the full-length, something that could not be said for previous Bruno Mars albums like 24K Magic.
The one constant through-line on the album, aside from the usual themes of love and opulence, is the narration of funk legend Bootsy Collins. His hosting duties are generally limited to the beginning or end of songs, and is generally a welcome presence on the album. Again, “After Last Night” is the only place where I actively wanted him to stop talking. But Collins’ presence completes the sound Silk Sonic is going for, and a small piece of authenticity and creativity would likely be missing without him.
Anderson.Paak probably speaks more on this album than anyone else, but his creativity is on full blast here and his performance is fantastic all the way through. Each song would sound a lot different if he wasn’t involved, and I’m grateful he’s here. Without Paak, I don’t think we’d get “Fly As Me,” “777,” or even “Smokin’ Out The Window.” Even the way he plays the drums is instantly recognizable, and he injects a sense of creativity and freedom to the album. He’s clearly having the time of his life, and that rubs off on the listener.
Finally, Bruno Mars. He was already a pop megastar, but this album brings a completely new sound to the table while still catering to his talents as a hitmaker. Mars set out to create the “setlist of doom”– basically, the perfect R&B album. With the way he wrote, produced, and sang throughout this album, it’s clear that he worked and played harder than anyone else this year. As of right now, I’m definitely more of a Silk Sonic fan than a fan of Mars’ solo material, but if he brings energy like this to his next solo project, it’s going to be incredible.
Right now, it looks unlikely that we’ll see another full-length project from this duo, let alone a tour. They both have their own solo careers and side ventures to worry about, and this album is a ridiculously tough act to follow. Still, I hope that this duo continues to work together in some capacity far into the future even if we don’t get “Another Evening with Silk Sonic,” or whatever a speculative follow-up would be called.
Speculation aside, An Evening with Silk Sonic is incredible. The strengths of both members of the duo are on full display on an album that has 90 seconds of filler at most. It remains to be seen how popular this album will be in the long run– they had to go up against Taylor Swift on release day, and albums like these aren’t listened to all the way through by many even months after the fact. Regardless, this album as it stands right now is one of the very best this year has to offer, and can be enjoyed by practically anyone. It’s one of the rare projects that balances for the listener both satisfaction in the material given and a desire to hear a lot more. I’d recommend that you spend an evening with Silk Sonic– you likely won’t regret it.