TLC, TLC | Album Review
TLC returns with its fifth and final self-titled studio album. Left Eye is certainly missed, but T-Boz and Chilli assemble an enjoyable effort nonetheless.
After a fifteen-year hiatus and a member down, TLC returns with their fifth and purportedly, final studio album, TLC. Extended hiatuses are tough for artists to overcome because the question is, how do you fit in with the current musical climate in regards to sound as well as commercially? For the most part, T-Boz and Chilli remain true to their signature style, but also incorporate some modern tricks into the mix.
TLC launches confidently with “No Introduction.” Rather than ease into their comeback, TLC drops the bomb. They’re an established, legendary musical act, so there’s no need for a reintroduction, extended hiatus or not. The accompanying production work is slick, and T-Boz and Chilli deliver a sassy, respectable vocal. Contextually, “No Introduction” employs a modern palette of sounds.
Promo single “Way Back,” featuring Snoop Dogg, keeps the momentum going strong. If “No Introduction” sounded more modern, “Way Back” embraces the past. Regardless, “Way Back” is a feel-good record, reminiscing on the good old days, particularly where music is concerned.
An extended version of the song concludes the album. So, what does Snoop bring to the table on his rap verse? Nothing notable, but he definitely fits the chill vibe.
“It’s Sunny” maintains the old school appeal, amplified by an Earth, Wind & Fire sample (“September”). The record is another moment of pleasantry for the duo. This is a ‘cool’ track as opposed to outright electrifying, but successful by all means. Call it what it is – empowerment central. This particular number is the catalyst for numerous empowerment numbers.
“Haters” returns to the more contemporary script of the opener, hence making it a departure from “Way Back” and “It’s Sunny.” What isn’t completely different from “Haters” is a message of empowerment, despite the modern synths and wacky drums.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa / Haters gonna hate / People gonna say what they say / But we don’t care about that anyway / Whoa, whoa, whoa / Don’t you ever change / People gonna say what they say / But we don’t care about that anyway.”
The message is tried and true, and while it isn’t game changing, TLC gets their point across.
Part of what makes TLC interesting is how they manage past urban contemporary music compared to modern urban contemporary. In the 90s, the adult contemporary vein of R&B was flourishing, something that can’t be said in 2017. “Perfect Girls” has some modern appeal, but to an extent, actually sounds dated. The message of empowerment returns, successful, but also, once again, been there done that.
Following the “Interlude,” T-Boz and Chilli “Start a Fire.” Naturally, that fire is sensually-charged.
“I can start a fire / Even in your sleep / Maybe we can start a riot / While you rest in me / Taking off like a red eye / I’m the last one to leave / Sippin’ on me for a nightcap / Got you bustin’ in your dreams.”
Again, there’s some great nostalgia going, thanks to the cool vocal approach and guitar accompaniment. Still, compared to some of the rest of TLC, there’s some more modern tricks that keep this from being completely straightforward or predictable.
TLC become politically-charged on “American Gold,” but never oversteps or offends. On the chorus, they sing:
“I bleed American gold / On this American soil / We pay for the price it cost / I bleed for this American gold / I cry for the ones I lost / I pray for the ones that don’t / I’m bleeding on American soil / I’m bleeding this American gold.”
Even with a change of subject matter, the girls don’t change their fundamental sound. The vocal harmonies are absolutely stunning – a selling point of this particular record.
“Scandalous” does an about face, shifting from America to the bedroom. The production embraces a more modern, clubby sound, but doesn’t sound out of character for T-Boz or Chilli either. Vocally, the smooth, sensual tone stands out. If you opt for a physical copy of TLC, you’ll miss out on the fun, tongue-n-cheek “Aye Muthaf*cka.” The title itself speaks to the feisty persona taken on by the duo. Interestingly, “Aye Muthaf*cka” has a throwback quality as opposed to being contemporary. The rhythmic vocals, performed in triplets, stand out on the second half of the chorus.
“Joy Ride” serves as the penultimate joint, prior to the extended version of “Way Back.” Throwback with a neo-soul oriented sound palette, this instantly sounds like TLC at its best. If finding surefire gems on the new album is an issue, “Joy Ride” alleviates the issue.
So, how does TLC measure up? Ultimately, this is a solid comeback, but not particularly flashy. TLC the duo doesn’t break new ground, but delivers and enjoyable album that takes fans back to the glory days. Will we remember the final TLC album for years to come? Probably not, but who cares? It’s nice to hear TLC for one last time.
Gems: “No Introduction,” “Way Back,” “It’s Sunny,” “Haters” & “Joy Ride”