Comprised of Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas, the group sprung out of Atlanta in 1991 and climbed the charts repeatedly during the 1990s and 2000s, becoming one of the best-selling girl groups of all time in the process. Propelled by a handful of instantly memorable singles including “Baby, Baby, Baby," "Waterfalls," and "No Scrubs," the trio’s first three albums—Ooooooohhh...On the TLC Tip (1992), CrazySexyCool (1994) and FanMail (1999)—have sold in the tens of millions combined.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck the winning group when Left Eye died in a car accident in 2002. While the two remaining members continued to tour sporadically, they have never picked up the momentum they had during their heyday. Their latest album, the eponymously titled TLC, is the first LP they've recorded since her passing. While it's understandable for artists to feel the need to create, TLC suggests that some things might just be better left alone. TLC has already solidified their musical legacy for the history books, but their flawed fifth LP warrants little more than a footnote.
One of the main problems with the album is that it sounds dated. While there's been a resurgence of the "throwback" sound in rock, that phenomenon hasn’t quite hit R&B yet. In the early ‘90s, Xscape, SWV and Jade were just a few of the highly polished female R&B groups that hit the scene as female counterparts to male-dominated outfits like Bell Biv DeVoe and Jodeci, sporting baggy clothes and incorporating hip-hop elements in their music and across their aesthetic. But if you stripped away all of the packaging from these groups, they could all still carry a strong tune. TLC, on the other hand, didn't rely on vocals as much as style and stellar production value. Their voices blended well together, like a perfectly running engine, but that engine seems to merely purr without Left Eye in the fold.
Of the twelve tracks on the album, only two really swing. “Way Back” has a laid back Southern Cali vibe accentuated by Snoop Dogg’s guest spot, while “Joy Ride” is a classic banger, with a slammin’ beat and positive message. Most of the remaining songs find the duo reminiscing about the past, but the songs don’t have the edge and intrigue that their previous ones benefited from. The ingenuity of a song like “No Scrubs,” for instance, is nowhere to be found. If they had updated their sound and infused the album with more variety, this might have been a stronger effort. As is, TLC sounds more like a mix of rehashed beats and lazy lyrics.
Some things are lightning in a bottle and should be preserved as such. TLC didn’t seem willing to take many risks on this album, and the end result is pablum.
Notable Tracks: “Joy Ride” | “Way Back”