With Silk Sonic, Bruno Mars & Anderson .Paak Set Their Time Machine To ’70s Funk & Soul

John Esparza

With Silk Sonic, Bruno Mars & Anderson .Paak Set Their Time Machine To ’70s Funk & Soul

John Esparza

Bruno Mars is a pastiche artist. That’s just who he is. He is very good at it, too — a born entertainer, a gifted songwriter, a master of period detail rivaling any Hollywood professional. Over the past decade, Mars has carved out a space as mainstream pop’s official retro ambassador. You are not ever going to find him pushing music forward, but he can be counted on to show up every couple years with expert facsimiles of bygone genres, overtly fun and catchy music bound to get wedding dance floors grooving and tickle the fancy of people who lament that music isn’t what it used to be. Bruno Mars owns this lane. And with Silk Sonic, he has decided to share it.

Historically, Anderson .Paak has been a bit more adventurous than Bruno Mars, more willing to hybridize his eclectic inspirations. Writing at Pitchfork, the eminent critic Marcus J. Moore called .Paak’s 2016 tour de force Malibu “an expansive opus that flows in multiple directions like a classic ’70s double album,” endorsing it as “powerful art, not only for people of color, but for everyone who exists beyond societal constraints.” But .Paak has ultimately been a kindred spirit with Mars, an old soul able to meticulously evoke a given era. He’s a bit rawer, raspier, and less predictable than his ultra-smooth Silk Sonic partner, the liquor to Mars’ cola.

An Evening With Silk Sonic, the album they’ve spent this whole year rolling out, surely did not surprise a single soul upon its arrival last Friday. Let that be your litmus test: If you have no interest in music that is content to dress up in euphoric visions of the past, this record is not for you. But again, you already knew that. Produced by Mars and industry veteran D’Mile, hosted by the legendary Bootsy Collins, with a guest appearance from Thundercat on “After Last Night” and writing credits for James Fauntleroy and Big Sean, An Evening With Silk Sonic traipses through archival funk, soul, and even early hip-hop with sparkling-smile pizzazz. The hooks and harmonies are immaculate and abundant. The music slaps in the most utterly professional capacity. The sunglasses are huge, the collars wide open. If you are on board for these kinds of genre exercises, there’s quite a bit to love here.

Not that much to love, though. The album amounts to just eight songs and an intro track, only 31 minutes in total. Ultimately, this is a blessing. The prestige sitcom runtime affords Mars and .Paak just enough leeway to present a few different flavors of the same essential product but gets them in and out before the shtick can wear thin. An Evening With Silk Sonic mostly stays serves up lush and luxuriant ’70s soul a la lead single “Leave The Door Open,” blurring the divide between midtempo tracks and straight-up ballads. There are also a couple hard-hitting guitar-powered funk tracks just begging to be flipped into hip-hop breakbeats, which allows .Paak to explore a different sort of nostalgia via some Big-Boi-esque rap bars without undermining the project’s era-specific spirit.

The Jimmy-Fallon-sketch corniness that is always prevalent on Bruno Mars records is at an all-time high here, particularly in the lyrics. If you’ve heard the advance singles, you’re aware: “I can smell your sweet perfume/ You smell better than a barbecue” on the otherwise-miraculous string-laden percussion escapade “Skate,” the Chuck E. Cheese reference on “Smokin’ Out The Window,” that kind of thing. It’s all in keeping with the characters these guys are playing; they are larger-than-life figures, people who can believably sing, “I deserve to be with somebody as fly as me.” On an album engineered for maximum fun, they have cast themselves as living cartoon characters.

But Silk Sonic are at their best when they aren’t getting too cute. “Put On A Smile,” one of the few songs here that doesn’t have airquotes around it, manages to keep up the same elaborate audio costuming while also conveying the genuine heartache you might encounter on actual ’70s soul ballads: “Tryna put on a smile/ Ooh, I’m just smilin’ like a fool/ When the only thing worth smilin’ for/ Baby girl, the only thing worth smilin’ for was you.” Closing track “Blast Off” is a psychedelic suite that soars ever higher into the heavenly realms until you really do feel like you’re floating among the clouds, unhinged guitar solo and all. And “Skate,” despite every effort by Mars and .Paak to wink the song into oblivion, glides so spectacularly into its chorus that any remaining ironic distance is eradicated and all that’s left is joy. Forged in the image of Curtis Mayfield, it’s a song so magnificent you’d be a fool to refuse when Silk Sonic urge, “Don’t be shy, just take my hand and hold on tight.”

CHART WATCH

Summer Walker scores her first #1 album on the Billboard 200 this week with Still Over It. According to Billboard, Walker’s second LP launches with 166,000 equivalent album units, almost entirely driven by streaming. The album notched 12,000 in sales but generated 201.1 million on-demand track streams in its first week, the most ever for an R&B album by a woman. Still Over It is also the first R&B album by a woman to hit #1 since Beyoncé’s Lemonade in 2016.

Debuting at #2 is ABBA’s comeback album Voyage. Remarkably, it’s the first ABBA LP to ever hit the top 10 in America; previously they peaked at #14 with 1978’s The Album. Voyage tallied 82,000 units and 78,000 in actual sales, making it the bestselling album of the week. Up next on the chart are Drake, Ed Sheeran, Morgan Wallen, and Doja Cat. Key Glock lands a career-best debut with Yellow Tape 2 at #7 with 36,000 units and 9,500 in sales. Olivia Rodrigo, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, and Lil Nas X close out the top 10.

Adele’s “Easy On Me” is still at #1 on the Hot 100 for a fourth straight week, followed once again by the Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” at #2 and Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow’s “Industry Baby” at #3. Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits” remains at #4, while his “Shivers” climbs to a new #5 peak, giving him two songs in the top five for the first time. Post Malone and the Weeknd’s “One Right Now” debuts at #6 — per Billboard, it’s Posty’s 10th top-10 hit and the Weeknd’s 14th. After Walker Hayes’ “Fancy Like” at #7 comes a #8 entry for Silk Sonic’s “Smokin Out The Window.” It’s the 18th visit to the top 10 for Mars and the second for .Paak. Doja Cat’s “Need To Know” and Glass Animals’ “Heat Wave” are at #9 and #10 respectively.

POP FIVE

Rosalía & The Weeknd – “LA FAMA”
Rosalía made her name on grand melodrama and wildly elaborate music videos. “LA FAMA” is strikingly restrained compared to much of El Mal Querer, and its video is a lot more simple in terms of set design and concept. Yet it all still plays like an ambitious statement return with a stunning visual accompaniment that made me both gasp and laugh out loud. Give me the new album now.

Avril Lavigne – “Bite Me”
The timing was right for this, and Avril has made the most of the opportunity. This is infinitely preferable to the inspirational dreck she was last seen foisting upon us.

Tate McRae – “feel like shit”
It’s no “You Broke Me First,” but it’ll do! McRae is finding ways to be a really distinctive within the ultra-trendy realm of sad-vibes pop.

Lennon Stella – “Bubble”
The futuristic molasses-creep production on this is sick, and the video is mighty eye-catching. I feel like if Beach House released this, indie fans would be all over it.

Luke Combs – “Doin’ This”
This is a seriously epic treatment for a song about the glory of the small-time musician life, but I guess Luke Combs actually does have to perform it in stadiums next year, so.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Dior’s already-completed spring/summer men’s collection is a collaboration with Travis Scott. “We’re very concerned,” says a staffer. [Rolling Stone]
  • Billy Porter apologized to Harry Styles for criticising his Vogue cover shoot. [YouTube]
  • Lizzo spoke at the ceremony for Missy Elliott’s new star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. [Twitter]
  • Justin Bieber announced a world tour scheduled through 2023. [Instagram]
  • The Human Rights Foundation is calling on Bieber to cancel an upcoming concert in Saudi Arabia. [THR]
  • In less serious Bieber news, he has a new Tim Hortons collaboration called Timbiebs Timbits. [YouTube]
  • Speaking of pop star/fast food collabs, Mariah Carey announced a Mariah’s Menu at McDonald’s featuring 12 days of free food. [USA Today]
  • Relatedly, Starbucks partnered with Taylor Swift on a Taylor’s Version drink — a Grande Caramel Nonfat Latte, which is Swift’s favorite order. [GMA]
  • The food news keeps coming: DJ Khaled launched a ghost kitchen chain to deliver wings in 30 cities. [Eater]
  • Ed Sheeran appears in the new Netflix movie Red Notice. [Twitter]
  • Lil Nas X teased his appearance on Maury, airing Wednesday. [People]
  • Tai Verdes played a concert in Roblox. [Roblox]
  • Lorde rescheduled her New Zealand and Australia tour dates for 2023. [Scenestr]
  • Avril Lavigne did new single “Bite Me” on Corden. [YouTube]

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