Coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the death of Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes, TLC have reportedly booked a comeback tour. Here’s why I’m glad they’re coming back to resuscitate their wonderful pop career.
TLC were a trio of vastly different individuals whose came together to create something bigger than the sum of their parts. With her deep voice and grounded sensibility, Tionne ‘T Boz’ Watkins was cast as the deep voiced ‘serious’ member of the trio, while the permanently smiling Rozondo ‘Chilli’ Thomas had the higher pitched voice and seemed more fun-loving and saucy. It was left to Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes, as the rapper of the band, to be TLC’s message maker.
And Lopes’ message for the band was one of individuality, whether that was preaching the importance of safe sex, via the bands colourful, condom-strewn outfits (early on in their career), or later, the message of being yourself in songs like the empowerment ballad ‘Unpretty’.
By the time of their second album ‘CrazySexyCool’ the band had successfully made the transition from teen girl group who had sweetened up the charts with songs like ‘What About Your Friends?’ to grown up women. Classics like ‘Creep’ dealt with infidelity turned on its head, while album closer ‘Sumthin’ Wicked This Way Comes’ (featuring Andre 3000) was a funky banger in which the trio sang about social issues like gang culture.
But it was on ‘Waterfalls’ that they managed to create one of the defining tracks of the era. A funky Prince production with a lyric that dealt with gun crime, AIDS and gangs, Left-Eye’s rap in the middle of the track – referencing her arrest for arson, rehab and recovery – gave it a personal touch which suggested there was light at the end of the tunnel, even in the darkest times.
By the time the band re-grouped for ‘Fanmail’ in 1999, The Spice Girls had happened but they managed to tap right into the musical zeitgeist with ‘No Scrubs’, a song which matched the battle of the sexes vibe of tracks like Destiny Child’s ‘Bills Bills Bills’. And although one final album was released after ‘Fanmail, ‘3D’, Lopes died before it was completed.
Her guest appearances on non-TLC tracks gave her a parallel career outside the band. On tracks like Melanie C’s ‘Never Be The Same Again’, Donell Jones’ ‘You Know What’s Up’ and Lil Kim’s all starrer ‘Ladies Night’, Lopes stole the show with her unique, delicate flow.
The news that TLC are planning to return (with a virtual Lopes projected on screen) is cause for celebration. They were a band whose joy for life was matched by their fighting spirit. They also created some of the biggest and best pop songs of the last twenty years.