Album Review: TLC (Self-titled)

(Released June 30th, 2017)

It’s been nearly fifteen years since the group credited as being the highest selling female (American) group of all time released their fourth album 3D – just seven months after the passing of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes – while the album had noticeable shortcomings, fans could appreciate the group finishing the project after experiencing such a tragedy. 3D, at the time, was believed to be the group’s final album; but with the help of their VH1 biopic and a Kickstarter campaign, we have now approached the “final” TLC project.

After many delays, T-Boz and Chilli finally delivered TLC’s self-titled fifth studio album. It kicks off with “No Introduction,” why is it when people say someone “needs no introduction” they immediately introduce them? But I digress. The song sees the duo taking a more modern approach and attempt to make a club banger, unfortunately, it doesn’t knock as hard as I wished it would. It also seems to be missing that extra something, and instantly, for me, that something is a Left Eye verse; it’s very hard to believe that they couldn’t find a verse from her that would fit and compliment this track.

We don’t need no scrubs chasing waterfalls, just have that red light when the money calls.

The album opener does a good job of setting the tone for the rest of the album – and not in a good way. This album is compiled of tracks that don’t seem to have been well thought out, instead of an album that’s been four years in the making it comes across as a last minute effort. For example, the decision to include two versions of “Way Back” is lazy. It isn’t a bad song but the extended version is the only one that really matters and being that the album is so short that spot could’ve been used more effectively. Another poorly thought out idea is “Haters.” I completely understand the intended message and the need for an older artist to try to appeal to a younger audience, and there’s no doubting the generational gap between kids who grew up before/during TLC’s reign and those born years after, but this is not the way to bridge that gap. The entire structure of the track screams dumbed down and cheap – “haters gonna hate” 3LW did it better.

The “Interlude” is also poorly executed – yet again – prior to the albums release a lot of people were skeptical on how Left Eye would be incorporated into the project, big or small or even at all, so it was a small sigh of relief knowing that the interlude would be dedicated to her. They chose to use an interview clip from the CrazySexyCool era, while it’s always bittersweet hearing her voice, the audio is muffled and for some it could be hard to make out what is being said; I did enjoy the instrumental that played in the background but as a whole it could’ve been so much more meaningful. It’s almost as if she was thrown on at the last minute just to appease the fans.

But, this album does have some good moments. “It’s Sunny” has significantly grown on me over the past few couple of weeks – I’m not sure if I actually like the song or if it’s the delusion setting in but either way, I enjoy it – it’s disco vibe would be perfect for a skating rink. While I’m not in the most patriotic mood at the moment, “American Gold” is sonically pleasing and well executed. “Aye Muthafucka” is nothing but fun, the production is up beat and doesn’t try hard to fit in with what’s popular today. “Joy Ride” does a good job at closing out TLC’s story, it would’ve been a good single choice instead of “Haters.” The Chilli led “Scandalous” is quite refreshing since TLC is notorious for being heavily T-Boz driven, so it’s nice to hear Chilli on lead vocals. Though the song isn’t mind-blowing it does a solid job at actually incorporating Chilli into the album.

My personal favorite songs are “Perfect Girls” and “Start a Fire.” Both songs take a mellow approach and show that TLC still has some magic left. “Perfect Girls” is reminiscent of “Unpretty” and any fan would be proud of this track and its accompanying message. At first, I was a bit taken aback by “Start a Fire.” Before even pressing play, the placement is right after Lisa’s interlude so initially, I thought the song would be another reference to her, it’s not – that’s not a bad thing though. Instead of an aggressive boisterous song about blowing your man’s spot up (literally), we have a sexually driven record with an acoustic twist. This is different for TLC. A group whose catalog consists of a lot of sex talk, it’s no surprise that they would dive into the topic again, but the choice to strip things down is a different approach for them; there’s also this beat change near the end as the song is fading out that makes me crave for an extended version or part two just to experience it in its entirety.

Overall, the self-titled “final” TLC album can be seen as a blemish on the groups legacy. If it was based solely off of music, it wouldn’t be so bad – pretty mediocre – but still not so bad. It’s everything prior to the release of the album that stopped this from being a graceful bow out. With comments relating to Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter right before the release date to allegations that the duo and their team ran off on the plug twice regarding the fulfillment of their Kickstarter campaign that put everything in motion, it was evident that as time went by things just became worse than they were before.

Their last album 3D was regarded by some as their worst album for various reason – I personally enjoy it but I see the complaints – one thing that 3D has that self-titled doesn’t is balancing out the good to bad ratio. For the longest, I believed “Dirty, Dirty” was the groups worst song – “Haters” has now taken the crown – the song is still quite terrible but it’s immediately followed by “So So Dumb” and all wrongs are made right in the world. That album consisted of some really solid songs and sounds like what I would want the “final” TLC album to sound like. It would be foolish for a fan to think the group could muster up another CrazySexyCool or Fanmail but 3D did what it was supposed to do.

Again, self-titled isn’t completely terrible and there are some bright spots. But the poor decision-making makes it very difficult for me to comprehend and come to grips with what I’m hearing. It makes the argument more valid that maybe Left Eye really was the creative force behind the group or that Babyface, LA Reid, and Dallas Austin were a crutch. Even though they weren’t as present, if at all, on 3D the album had songs from Rodney Jerkins, Pharrell/The Neptunes and Raphael Saadiq; people who they have an established chemistry with who were able to help put that album together. Basically, it’s like T & C have no idea what is best when it comes to them doing things on their own regarding the group without major assistance.

Needless to say, I’m disappointed in the overall outcome. But, what’s done is done and I am beyond pleased that this entire train wreck is officially over.

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