Release Date: Jun 30, 2017
Record label: Cooking Vinyl
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F rom the beginning of their self-titled fifth album, it's clear that TLC are keen to prove that they are, indeed, TLC. Understandably so, for the case against is convincing: this is the first album the band have released without any input from the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, generally considered the trio's creative nerve centre. The opener No Introduction - a hyped-up list of their achievements, ironically enough - might feel forced, but from then on the duo prove themselves more than capable custodians of the TLC brand.
As one of the top rewards for the Kickstarter that funded TLC's fifth and final album, donors who pledged $5,000 or more were gifted a slumber party at the personal residences of T-Boz or Chilli. "We'll put on our jammies," read the description, "order some late night snacks, and have some #TLCPillowTalk. Mom and Dad won't be there, so there's no need to keep the volume down." Such an intimate prize--and its dishy, familial language--encapsulates the ethos guiding TLC since their first album, Ooooooohhh… on the TLC Tip, in 1992.
TLC are back! Following a recording hiatus of 15 years, many will approach their self-titled fifth album TLC - the first to not feature the late Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes - with the question: if this is a nostalgia trip how far can it take us? A comeback album is a hard compromise. TLC are one of the most successful female bands of all time, having sold 65 million albums. A lot of people have expectations about their sound.
"We don't need no introduction," sing the two surviving members of TLC at the start of their first album in 15 years. But, apparently, they do think they need some kind of recap. Towards the start of their comeback release, out Friday, the pair offers prominent shout-outs to their biggest hits, "No Scrubs" and "Waterfalls," setting up an album rife with retro references.
When Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins announced the Kickstarter campaign to fund their final album two years ago, many fans questioned their decision to make a new TLC record without the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, who perished in a car crash in 2002. After all, the trio was one of the best-selling girl groups of all time, thriving on the chemistry of its members' distinct personalities. Would they be as original or as interesting without Left Eye's outspokenness, charisma or eccentricity? Upon hearing TLC's new, self-titled album, the answer seems to be no.
TLC's fan-funded fifth album opens in bullish mood, Chilli and T-Boz name-checking their biggest 90s hits over No Introduction's prowling beats and vintage harmonies. Things droop as they settle into generic, throwback R&B (Way Back, It's Sunny), and tired self-improvement anthems (Perfect Girls, the limp Haters). Much better is Start a Fire's odd acoustic experimentations and American Gold's state-of-the-nation address that undulates over huge head-knocking beats and crunchy guitars.
OressSome pop comebacks seem unnecessary, but TLC's first album in 15 years arrives with a genuine sense of defying a career unfulfilled. After supplying some of the 1990s' defining R&B thrills with 'Waterfalls', 'No Scrubs' and 'Unpretty', the US girl group were floored when a car crash claimed the life of band member Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes in 2002. A cobbled-together album called '3D' appeared later that year but failed to top the charts.
TLC's self-titled final album arrives 15 years after 3D but sounds as though no time has passed at all. The aesthetics of R&B have transformed considerably in the years since TLC topped the charts, with the genre's dependence on hip-hop motifs deepening. Yet these changes are barely acknowledged on TLC, the group's first album exclusively as a duo.
There's a history of legacy albums, released long after an icon's peak, that serve as testaments to bygone greatness. Then there are off-balance projects like TLC, the first TLC album since 2002, that contain only small traces of previous swagger. The old, provocative TLC had a way of being radically accessible. On 1999's "Unpretty," the group's three members--Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas--balanced a plain yet purposeful statement about beauty standards with an effortless cool: "I wish I could tie you up in my shoes/Make you feel unpretty too." In the music video, an already gorgeous Chilli is seen stuffing her bra with tissue as she contemplates breast implants.
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