In the interests of transparency let me start this review by nailing my flag to the mast: I am a huge fan of Bruno Mars. Not a throw your knickers on the stage kind of fan, but one who genuinely appreciates the ridiculous amount of talent that has been packaged into this diminutive 5’5” parcel. Anyone doubting the levels of vocal perfection and musical talent, I challenge you to watch a live performance (in particular his 2013 VMA performance of Gorilla) and not be swayed.
Early in 2018 on Bruno’s XXIV Magic tour I was excited to find that the support act was none other than Anderson Paak who at that time was best known to me for his 2016 release Malibu featuring the epic Come Down. Paak oozes funk and has an energy as infectious as his smile, a beast on the drums – the guy is a human metronome (google Anderson Paak NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert). I remember thinking at the time that a Paak and Mars collab would be a marriage made in heaven... roll forward to 2021 and the release of their debut album under the band name Silk Sonic inviting us to spend some time with them on ‘An Evening With Silk Sonic’. Yes please. But would I be disappointed?
Let’s get one thing straight, these are two guys at their peak. The entire album is crafted from retro velvet, a plush love letter to seventies soul and Motown and from the offset it’s clear that they are having a BALL. The track listing starts with an ‘Intro’featuring the legendary Bootsy Collins which in itself is a perfect scene setter for the slick, 70’s extravaganza about to unfold. Tracks 2 and 3 are the stand out tracks for me; ‘Leave the Door Open’ the first single released earlier this year and ‘Fly As Me’. The former is a vocal lesson in seduction, Paak’s cheeky assertation ‘I look too good to be alone’ sliding effortlessly into Mars’ soaring falsetto chorus ‘I’ma leave the door open’, the track manages to merge the sultry energies of 1970’s soul and 2000’s R&B and transport them into 2021. ‘Fly As Me’ is no doubt the earworm of the album, Paak; a voice as audacious Kendrick Lamar with extra sauce will have you convinced that ‘you deserve to be seen with someone as fly as me’, his smooth flow gliding over a Stevie Wonder bassline.
‘After Last Night’ is the track that really typifies the tone of the album. Think late night 70’s detective series theme tune. Littered with ‘woo-woos’ and the vocals of Bootsy and Thundercat this offering is sultry and seductive but with tongue firmly in cheek lyrics ‘I want some more, sweet, sticky thick and pretty, you changed the game’. You can smell the Cuban cigars, velvet suits and oversize aviators.
What is joyously clear throughout the whole album is the sheer chemistry between Mars & Paak. Their friendship is palpable and they play off each other with ease. Fully self-aware, the lyrics are full of in-jokes and the finishing of each other’s punchlines.‘Smokin’ Out The Window’ sees Paak reminisce about an ex “Just the other night she was gripping on me tight, screaming ‘Hercules!’” and the subsequent break-up “Not to be dramatic, but I wanna die”.
The gear change comes in the form of ‘Put On A Smile’ a slower, more melancholy track of regret and heartbreak. The vibes are distinctly Smokey Robinson; Tears of a Clown. Bruno’s liquid gold vocals and haunting harmonies provide the soul searching narrative against a shimmering musical backdrop of snares, xylophones and key changes. In terms of production this track alone is a master class; there aren’t many tracks in 2021 that could pull off a thunderclap ending. This could definitely be the track that after several listens works its way to the top of the list.
‘777’ is the heaviest track of the album, the verse immediately reminiscent of Mystikal’s 2000 release ‘Danger’, ‘bar full of liquor, cash for the strippers, its gon’ get weird tonight, so no pictures’...ok Andy we get the idea, there’s a reason why this is the only ‘E’ rated track on the list. The chorus is a suitably riotous collision of ascending harmonies, whooping and cat calling.
‘Skate’ the second release from the album is an immediately likeable sunshine affair that was clearly conceived in, and made for the long, hot Summer days. With Bruno on the bongos this sounds like a rum cocktail complete with plastic monkey and paper umbrella. The rhythm of this track cannot be avoided – it must be impossible to listen to this song without moving limbs. Fittingly, I suspect that rum cocktails had a part to play in the writing of the final offering on this musical journey. ‘Blast Off’ sees Mars and Paak flying off into a metaphorical universe of romance and seduction. Angelic harmonies give way to full-on sci-fi rockets, lasers and even a Prince style guitar solo before, with a final word from Bootsy, the journey ends....
It turns out that my only disappointment in spending ‘An Evening With Silk Sonic’ is that the lights come on too soon. But then Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak are way too clever to leave you any other way. This album is a rich, glorious soundscape that has been produced to perfection by two people with one exact vision. Unashamedly retro, the vibe is very definitely humour and harmony, and the result is irresistible and refreshing. I can only hope this is a partnership that lasts to see a second album. 8/10
Sonya Heath. A Bruno Fan.