As someone who vividly recalls purchasing the cassette single of “Baby, Baby, Baby,” from Sam Goody, and when The Box used to play “Creep” regularly, I was ecstatic to learn of a final TLC studio project. 15 years in the making, the group is etched in my childhood. A combination of soul that is seductive and smooth, and giddy pop, the girl group is regularly recognized as being influential not just for 90’s female groups, but for creating a template by which soul bands from that point on would subsequently follow. The album, simply titled TLC, is their fifth and is quite different in how it began when viewed within the lens of previous albums.
TLC is result of a Kickstarter campaign, which obtained its initial goal of $150,000 in less than 48 hours and raised more than $400,000 when it was all said and done. It seems that fans were aching to hear something from the group, despite the ebb and flow TLC went through in the early 2000s, after the passing of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. The album features ten songs, each testifying to the legacy the group has within the musical entertainment playground.
The opener, “No Introduction,” aptly calls attention in an overt way, to the fact that in spite of the span of time between their last album and this one, their group name still carries an intensity and depth, which is unmatched by other bands, who have similarly taken time off due to life circumstances and experiences. The song blares itself into the speakers in a comparable stance to “Kick Your Game,” from 1994’s CrazySexyCool, but steps it up a notch with a rousing chorus of T-Boz and Chili.
“Way Back,” the first single from the collection, finds them engineering a cool-tempered rhythm with Snoop Dogg offering a few nostalgic bars. The beat immediately pulls the listener in and on first listen could create the appearance that the 15-year hiatus has been nothing but a dream.
TLC offers more up-tempo pieces than many may be used to from the group’s repertoire. This is especially evident on “It’s Sunny,” which infuses elements from Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September,” Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny,” and a gospel toe-tapping. The result is ear tickling and high energized pop. On “Haters,” the album’s second single, TLC pens an anthemic ode to opinionated doubters and naysayers not only of the group – but in general; while “Perfect Girls,” mirrors “Unpretty,” from 1999’s FanMail, in its introspective musings and gives a nod to cherishing the beauty within rather than anything pertaining to the exterior.
Several recordings of Left Eye are strung together for an interlude midway through the album, which powerfully conjures to mind what might have been had she not been tragically taken from the group and its effusive dynamics.
Where TLC has often spectacularly shined from a radio standpoint in their sultry and alluring songs, this project does lack these. The mid-tempo “Scandalous” and guitar-heavy “Start a Fire,” breeze by without making a heavy impact like a “Red Light Special,” “Hands Up” or “Something You Wanna Know.” Yet, the main theme of TLC is not to retread what has been done before per se, but to close out a musical period in all of our lives.
“Joy Ride,” the album’s swan song strolls down memory lane back to the group’s start and unveiling to the world, and moves to the current status quo. Although the song is upbeat in its presentation, the mood is bittersweet and sentimental.
Both T-Boz and Chili have commented that while TLC is their curtain call studio wise, it is not the last that critics, fans, and general listeners have heard of them. The group plans to perform as TLC and enjoy the legacy they have effectively and successfully carved out since their emergence in the spotlight back in 1991. TLC is not a classic album and doesn’t pretend to be. It does however, give proper closure and adds to their collection in a poignant way.
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