An Evening With Silk Sonic is exactly as tame and lame as a Bruno/Anderson collab seems like it would be — frivolous, unambitious, inoffensive.
The visual aesthetic of Silk Sonic — a supergroup comprised of resident cornballs Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, in case you haven’t heard — is attempting to convince you of something that their music repeatedly fails to substantiate: that this retro-fetishistic, late-capitalist enterprise in repurposing old sounds to a new audience is actually an authentic love letter to ‘70s Motown/Chicago soul stylings, made by two contemporary, (heavy air-quotes here) “hip” entertainers in their commercial primes. Indeed, their lead-up PR run — which included Mars tweet-begging the Grammy’s to let “two out-of-work musicians” perform at that year’s ceremony, a rather tasteless joke for a millionaire to crack given the current economic climate for most touring artists — had a convincing-enough veneer, especially realized in their promotional music videos. They were all self-satisfied in this goofy, wink-wink sort of way — and bordered on slapstick to the point that they could be classified as minstrelsy — but they at least had an air of superficial validity to them, where the idea of Mars and .Paak cosplaying as P-Funk members didn’t seem like that much of a stretch given the degree to which both comfortably inhabit this given genre/period-specific crossover space. They’re naturally charismatic performers with impressive vocal ranges, ones who aren’t afraid to ham things up and can provide a reliable degree of magnetism that’s required for an endeavor of this nature. There’s a lot of tough-talking one minute, then they play heel the next. At one point, each sings about how “this bitch got me payin’ her rent,” and it comes off like a light-hearted joke, a petty gibe from a heartbroken suitor.
This flippant attitude — a bratty mixture of both trite and trivial — permeates every second of An Evening with Silk Sonic, a half-hour exercise in sanitized make-believe that never rises above being merely inconsequential. It’s the “sonic” equivalent of children playing dress-up with their parent’s clothing, a cheap imitation of past successes — and a watered-down, lifeless form of mimicry at that. The lead single “Leave the Door Open” is syrupy to the point of becoming nauseatingly saccharine, aping that classic Philly sound with almost no personality beyond baroque orchestral instrumentation and some lush chord progressions; it aims for respectability instead of listenability, to be admired from afar as it’s played in doctor’s offices across America. Results this debased shouldn’t be too surprising, considering Mars is the crowning champion of delivering diluted, culturally appropriated easy-listening hits (.Paak’s a little better, but still major wack vibes all around); look no further than the lifeless “777” and even lamer “Skate.” In a sense, the album should be something of the optimal project for the two: a frivolous, inoffensive trip through yesteryear that compliments how artistically unambitious its lead vocalists are. An Evening with Silk Sonic certainly fits that depressing description — it’s ironic calling something this tedious a “success,” but these meager goals are indeed accomplished — but to what ends? Maybe as a testament to just how “low” a low-ceiling release can get, where something this devoid of human emotion or integrity could be considered “soulful.”
Published as part of Album Roundup — November 2021 | Part 2.