Like fellow ‘90s hard-hitters A Tribe Called Quest a few months ago, TLC have emerged from the death of a key player and a decade-plus musical drought to release the album they have officially declared to be their “final release.”
The last time TLC was making headlines was in 2002, the year that they released their most recent album, 3D, in the wake of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes’ fatal car accident in Honduras. Surviving group members Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and and Rozonda “Chilli” Watkins have continued to perform intermittently over the ensuing years, although they never reunited in the studio until just now. But no matter– their new music is now here, and it is a wholly satisfying effort, even if Left Eye’s presence and hip-hop-infused swagger are dearly missed throughout.
“We don’t need no introduction, we back,” T-Boz and Chilli sing, eager to prove that no rust has accumulated over the years. “It’s nothing but a thing to pick up where we left off.” For the most part, they manage to back that claim up. Vocally, neither one of the two singers sounds all that different from how they did on their signature records, which makes this 40-minute throwback to that era of yore all the more easygoing. And thematically, this album could slide quite smoothly onto the shelf next to the rest of the TLC catalogue.
Free-for-all party anthems, the kind of music that characterized the group’s very earliest output 25 years ago, surface in the form of “Joy Ride” and “It’s Sunny,” among others. The former is a heartfelt thank-you note to their fans; on the latter, the two blend a catchy ba-ba-ba-ba chorus and Earth, Wind & Fire sample into a message to all that “the dark days are gone, and the bright days are here.” The time has come to enjoy a party well-earned, in other words.
It is reassuring to know that the ladies still know how to kick back and have a good time when appropriate. On the other hand, this is a group whose signature hits were often cautionary tales against AIDS, gun violence, and anorexia, and T-Boz and Chilli are still determined to comfort their fans dealing with such anxieties.
Tracks such as “Haters,” “American Gold” and “Perfect Girls” urge listeners not to let dem hataz drag them down, or to become overly obsessed with their self-image. “You gon’ always pull through,” they sing, with altruism reminiscent of 1999’s “Unpretty.” “People gonna say what they say, but we don’t care about that, anyway.” The tenderness in their new music is just as genuine now as ever before.
TLC also show some sly sass à la “No Scrubs” on “Aye Muthaf***a,” chastising the fools who think they have what it takes to take them on. And yet, they invite them to do just that on “Scandalous” — “give me your body, give me your body right now,” they sing — bouncing back and forth in their opinions of their male suitors as freely as they did on albums past.
TLC is not necessarily the most adventurous album the group could have released as a comeback statement. But all the winning elements of their back catalogue — great singing, a proper balance between playful and serious tracks, and achieving a genuine emotional connection to their listeners — are still encapsulated quite well here. It was also thoughtful of them to grant a tiny bit of limelight to the late Left Eye- – the seventy-second “Interlude” features some compelling archival commentary from Lopes on the group’s origins and ambitions.
In the end, the group’s latest release proves that TLC can indeed function as a duo, not just a trio, and demonstrates clearly why this group reached such tremendous heights during its ‘90s heyday. Their final album brings that party into the modern day with great success overall. The faithful fans who donated $400,000 on Kickstarter so that TLC could see the light of day are sure to feel rewarded.
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