Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s collaboration project An Evening with Silk Sonic falls perfectly within the range of expectations for each of the two artists. Again, there goes Bruno Mars flexing his deep, ravishing vocals. There goes Anderson .Paak rapping (or sometimes, merely reading out) flirtatious lyrics. As usual, they give a satisfactory blend of R&B, retro, disco and soul. In a word, An Evening with Silk Sonic, as the title suggests, is a perfectly safe choice to play on a relaxing, leisurely Friday evening.
This album thrives on the past. On the album’s second lead single “Skate,” Mars and .Paak take every audience on a trip to a 1970s American skating club. As vibrant wind chimes and playful retro guitars begin the song, Mars and .Paak discover an ideal lady and begin their bold pursuit. “Skate to me, baby,” their unhesitant invitation for love does not stem from sincere admiration. Rather, it is about the thrills of the joyful evening, or more simply, the sake of having a fleeting romantic encounter with somebody.
Mars and .Paak are obviously having their best time on “Skate.” Their vocals are confidently unhurried and softly bantering. While Mars often fights with the heavy background drumbeats and disco synthesizers on his records such as in 24K Magic, “Skate” finds him singing in a more composed voice that complements his partner .Paak and its silky retro instrumentals. “Just slide your way on over,” like his skating moves, his vocal performance is smooth and effortless.
If “Skate” is a playful, self-assured manifestation of romantic passion, then “After Last Night” is far more boozed-up. Singing “that gushy gushy good” and “sweet, sticky, thick and pretty,” .Paak craves sex but euphemizes his desires with this series of lush, witty rhyming words. In this track, voices of anonymous men and women are also extensively used as ad-libs to create a dreamy, reverberating effect.
Although “After Last Night” is about the painful disillusionment after a one-night stand, it presents a rather enthralling and harmonious auditory experience. The song speaks to general experiences about love’s evanescent passions and its sober, sometimes afflicting aftermaths. Love might not have stayed forever, but its momentary thrills are always worth experiencing.
Taken as a whole, this short album testifies to Mars and .Paak’s confident mastery of R&B and retro music. The soothing saxophones and lively discos almost run throughout the album. The skillful use of percussion instruments never asserts its presence over vocals but faithfully remains in the background to further enhance a chill, immersive listening experience. Thus, by prioritizing harmony and consistency, An Evening with Silk Sonic is certainly soft and appealing to the ear.
With that said, the album also gets bland quickly upon a second listen. Its nostalgic concept is barely new, given that artists such as Victoria Monét in her 2019 EP Jaguar have already tried very similar concepts — perhaps more successfully. Moreover, the lead single “Leave the Door Open” also turns stale rapidly. In its opening, .Paak delivers a long, eerie lyric-reading rather than rapping or singing. Mars’ vocal performance on its prolonged and repeated outro is equally irritating. Simply put, this four-minute single is unnecessarily long, and it gets further boring when the song is only about prompting women to engage in sex.
The greatest failure of this album is its cheesy message about love and sex, which limits the rich, romantic atmosphere created by its instruments. In “Leave the Door Open,” .Paak boasts his big mansion and warm pools as if women are only attracted by material luxury. “Skate”’ starts with a shallow metaphor that compares a lady to “hundred dollars” in a room full of “dimes.” In fact, such a male gaze persists throughout this album, which becomes more conspicuous and troubling upon second listen.
So, prepare for an exquisite, relaxing experience of R&B and retro music when listening to An Evening with Silk Sonic. But like what the title suggests, one evening is perhaps enough.
Contact William Xu at [email protected].