The first voice you here on Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak's An Evening With Silk Sonic is that of Bootsy Collins. Collins is a legend who has worked with everyone from James Brown to Deee-Lite, acting as a figurehead of funk and soul for every generation. The truth is though, funk and soul in its purest form has mostly been left out of the mainstream in recent times. Sure, it's been peppered through every genre but there hasn't been an act like Silk Sonic clocking major hits.
That was until Leave The Door Open. .Paak and Mars have both dabbled in vintage sounds in the past. Mars delved into sounds of '90s R&B for his last project 24k Magic and .Paak peppers Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder all through his music. Leave The Door Open burst through earlier this year alongside the news that .Paak and Mars were launching a new project.
There was something instantly magnetic about their chemistry. They're both cheeky and charismatic with vocals that can pierce through walls. Leave The Door Open harnessed the power of their pairing, becoming a #1 hit in both the US and Australia while simultaneously ignoring everything that's popular. The length, for one, is over four minutes (unheard of in the TikTok era). The sound is also unlike anything that wandered into the charts this year.
The album An Evening With Silk Sonic doubles down on the sound, venturing even further into the world of vintage soul and funk. You can hear tinges of James Brown's bravado, hints of Stevie Wonders' wandering melodies, and Smokey Robinson's harmonies. The only about the project that's of this generation is the duo themselves. And even they sound like old souls.
.Paak is a drummer and as a result, it's a percussive record. Even though each sound arrives in decadence with luscious strings and blaring horns, the drums stand atop. "He comes from a different era," Mars told Zane Lowe about .Paak.
"...you don’t come from this new school of musicians, you come from those old school musicians back in the day that one drummer would play on everyone’s record, like the Funk Brothers at Motown.”
Mars also played drums on the record and it's the only thing that matches the bravado of the pairs' vocals adding punch to a charismatic moment like Fly Like Me. All the instrumentation is live and the whole album runs like the setlist of a classic Motown artist moving through all their hits. All killer, no filler. The vibe switches up too just like a live setlist. Put On A Smile takes the reigns as the luscious Motown ballad while 777 drips with rock 'n' roll, tipping its hat to the original creators of the genre. The album comes to a close with the whimsical Blast Off which feels like one of Stevie Wonders' weightless cuts from Songs In The Key Of Life.
It's a testament to the pair that they have managed to make a sound that's been so left out of modern conversation so cool. The duo are so cool together and you can see that they know that. It's in the way they slide and stare at the camera. While everyone is looking to the early '00s for fashion inspiration, they're wearing monochromatic suits with wide lapels. It's done with such confidence that it feels like they themselves could launch the comeback of '70s fashion.
Silk Sonic is about the experience more so than just the songs. That's a Motown approach to releasing music. Motown was about the soul, the fashion, and the moves all tied together. As smooth as the songs were, there was a fight to their delivery as if they were demanding attention. Mars says Silk Sonic have a similar approach to it telling Rolling Stone, "We need to light up a stage, put the fear of God in anyone performing before us or after us, and bring so much joy to the people we’re in front of and the people listening."
Not to be the old man yelling at cloud but there's something inspiring about seeing that approach back in the mainstream. The song and the performance come first and whatever follows, follows. If any of these songs end up in TikTok trends or Instagram captions, it's unintentional. In fact, the success of Leave The Door Open even feels accidental.
An Evening With Silk Sonic is so luxurious and in-your-face that it's going to be impossible to ignore. Their latest single Smokin Out The Window is delivered in its entirety with a cheeky smile. Even if you find it on-the-nose at first, you'll find yourself toe-tapping without even noticing. And then moving the whole body. And then singing.
Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, and Prince. They're the influences that .Paak names in the Rolling Stone interview and you can hear every single one of them plastered across the record. The only thing with those influences is that they're mainstream dominance ends around the '90s (bar perhaps Prince). With Silk Sonic, they extend funk and soul's influence into the 2020s. That's not to say artists have stopped making funk and soul music but when was the last time a song that sounds like Leave The Door Open was a #1 record?