For a group whose members’ solo albums often seem like the work of one perfectionist mastermind, Silk Sonic are an impeccably in-sync alliance. Ever since Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak first announced their collaboration with March’s ‘Leave The Door Open’ – a sumptuous single that features the former’s best vocal performance to date – it was clear that this was a team of two retro-obsessed musicians revelling in a deep admiration for one another.
Here was a song that showed off the pair’s intuitive chemistry with playful humour (“If you’re hungry, girl, I got fillets”), studied musicianship and a shared crate-digger mindset. Its ascendant bridge, formed from a collection of rich chord changes which meld into each other, is far from subtle in its references, but that’s part of the fun. A combination of soft piano lines, swooning strings and a glockenspiel revive the sound of seminal Philadelphia soul groups such as The Delfonics and The O’Jays, who brought symphonic arrangements to the mainstream in the early 1970s.
But Mars and .Paak’s deliberate approach to pastiche is consistently validated by their extreme attention to detail, meaning that their debut album, ‘An Evening With Silk Sonic’, is far from a two-man recreation of a specific era. The record’s nine rich and colourful tracks delight in all-out pop hooks, lush harmonies and conversational verses that occasionally – but knowingly – lean towards musical theatre. Yet every element feels intentionally placed: in a recent Rolling Stone interview, the duo bragged about how “dozens” of versions of this album got scrapped simply because a minor production note wasn’t right – proving that they take their craft more seriously than most.
It all started with a pact. When .Paak opened for Mars on the European leg of his ‘24K Magic’ tour in spring 2017, the pair found themselves experimenting and jamming in the studio after just a week. They soon agreed that they would make a collaborative record together, but refused to place a timeline on it in the hope that, over time, they would be able to alchemise a full-length album from this organic approach. When the tour ended, the artists carried on with their respective lives until they reconnected in early 2020 after Mars listened back to the demos they made on the road three years prior. It was time to turn half-promises into a fully-realised passion project.
‘An Evening With Silk Sonic’ is an album that’s been made with extraordinary care, one that seeks to avoid nostalgic trappings while still aiming for timelessness. Glitzy opener ‘Silk Sonic Intro’ introduces us to the record’s guest host, legendary Parliament-Funkadelic member and funk overlord Bootsy Collins (or “Bootzilla himself” as he puts it over a blast of horns). He reappears on the majority of the songs across the record, and even imparts some hard-won emotional wisdom to Mars and .Paak at the start of candid power ballad ‘Put On A Smile’. “Take it from your Uncle Bootsy,” he whispers. “Ain’t no shame beggin’ in the rain / Tell her how you really feel.”
The swaggering ‘Fly As Me’ picks up where Mars’ last solo effort, 2016’s ‘24K Magic’, left off: a characteristically funky celebration of proud extravagance and wealth. Atop wiggly slap bass, .Paak half-raps a whole host of increasingly ridiculous flexes, extending an invitation to head “downtown where they treat me like the mayor” where he can freely encourage lovers to “sprinkle some truffle on your mashed potatoes”. This tongue-in-cheek boasting is a fine display of the unshakable confidence that defines much of this record, filled as it is with lashings of personality, style and finesse.
Some of the pair’s punchlines are direct and funny, while others are immensely sharp. They’re fully self-aware, but still know exactly when to deploy their in-jokes. Mars, for instance, wants to “moonwalk to the money like I’m Mike Jack” on the riotous, rock-leaning ‘777’. ‘Smokin’ Out The Window’, meanwhile, sees .Paak reminisce about a former flame. “Just the other night she was gripping on me tight, screaming ‘Hercules!’” he croons, drawing out the melody over a weighty bassline. And his response to the break-up he’s singing about? “Not to be dramatic, but I wanna die.” Fair enough.
Crucially, Mars and .Paak know when to reel it all in. As well as genuine laugh-out-loud moments there are gorgeously subtle flourishes throughout, like the fluttering intake of breath that swirls around the mix on ‘After Last Night’ or the crisp, pristine blasts of percussion that uplift the roller rink jam ‘Skate’.
On ‘An Evening With Silk Sonic’, the magic is in the way that the music moves: the songs are radiant and full of joy, formed from the synergy of two relentlessly creative minds. The album glows with appreciation for the simple but irreplaceable power of working alongside someone you trust and respect like no other — and it sounds as effortless and rewarding as an old friendship.
Release date: November 12
Record label: Atlantic