When a musician makes a hit as big, ubiquitous, and perpetual as “Uptown Funk”—the default soundtrack for prime-time TV commercials to this day—we’d be forgiven for wishing they’d take the rest of the decade off.
But Bruno Mars won’t give us a break. He gave us “Uptown Funk,” and then he gave us 24K Magic, and now he’s once again imploring us back onto the dance floor at the never-ending wedding reception in our hearts. This week, Bruno and his musical partner Anderson .Paak, billed together as Silk Sonic, released their collaborative album, An Evening With Silk Sonic, led by the no. 1 single “Leave the Door Open.” These are two very different performers united in their regard for the past half-century in Black music. On Silk Sonic, Bruno plays the upbeat and unbeatable showman, and Paak plays the wonky L.A. rap-funk screwball with the scratchier, low-key vocals. Together, Bruno and Paak aren’t quite a supergroup but rather a happy funk-revivalist subfaction—well, kinda; we’ll hash out the “funk” and “revivalist” distinctions below—cosigned (with a conspicuous credit on the album cover art) by legendary bassist Bootsy Collins.
Though styled as a 1960s to ’70s retro endeavor, Silk Sonic isn’t a work of nostalgia but rather a fusion: funk, rap, and R&B as they’ve sounded in heavy rotation as recently as the 2000s. Of course, these genres have always mingled—in Bootsy’s music, Bruno’s music, Paak’s music, and in general—but An Evening With Silk Sonic packs these styles into an easy, breezy tour de force. It’s easy to ridicule as cheap listening by any music snob who can name more than three Prince albums off the top of their head, but it’s hard to resist.
Consider an alternative: Five years ago, Childish Gambino soared up the charts with “Redbone” and Awaken, My Love!, a technically masterful tribute to Funkadelic and Prince that nonetheless suffers from a relentless self-seriousness in Gambino’s performances—a strange distinction for a funk album released by a comedian. Musically and attitudinally, Paak’s solo material tends to sound a lot more like Awaken, My Love! than 24K Magic, and if nothing else An Evening With Silk Sonic succeeds in loosening Paak up a bit. He and Bruno traffic in mild cat-daddy witticisms like, “You smell better than a barbecue” on “Skate.” It’s all clever enough but still rather lacking the dirty pizzazz compared to the genre’s traditional lyricism or even a random tweet from Bootsy Collins posted just the other day, saying, “Don’t let the Door hit u, where ur Pant’s Don’t Fit Cha.” I’m just saying: The music could not be smoother but the songwriting could’ve gone harder.
Bootsy layers ad-libs on a few songs (“Intro,” “After Last Night,” “Smokin Out the Window”), and while these days he’s no DJ Drama on Call Me if You Get Lost, his voice is exciting and lends a certain immortal authority to these proceedings. Bruno is by far the strongest living male vocalist on the Hot 100 at the moment. (Halloween put Michael Jackson and “Thriller” back on the chart.) Paak sings well enough, and so I wish he’d stay in his neo-soul lane on Silk Sonic, but inevitably he starts rapping and drags some songs to the brink of novelty. It’s a small complaint about a mighty album. Paak’s drums are white-hot, Bootsy’s blessed these bass lines, Thundercat brings the house down on “After Last Night,” and even the cheesiest songs on Silk Sonic (“Fly As Me,” “Skate”) are redeemed on the strength of max volume, sheer confidence, and Bruno’s unlimited charisma.
True to the title, An Evening With Silk Sonic is music for an event. I don’t doubt the gang’s power to hoist the album’s entire runtime onto the charts—they’re already partially there—but I can imagine these songs turning any large gathering of middle-aged people into sweaty heathens for the foreseeable future. I hope Bootsy’s along for the ride. If so, I hope to attend a tour date before the prime-time commercial breaks on ABC have me regretting every word of flattery in this review. It might be inevitable once I’ve heard “Leave the Door Open” a bajillion times for 18 consecutive months and hope, hopelessly, never to hear such beautiful music again.