OressSome pop comebacks seem unnecessary, but TLC’s first album in 15 years arrives with a genuine sense of defying a career unfulfilled.
After supplying some of the 1990s’ defining R&B thrills with ‘Waterfalls’, ‘No Scrubs’ and ‘Unpretty’, the US girl group were floored when a car crash claimed the life of band member Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes in 2002. A cobbled-together album called ‘3D’ appeared later that year but failed to top the charts.
This album also feels more purposeful than the average reunion effort because it was crowdfunded by fans. Perhaps partly in deference to their generosity, remaining band members Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins and Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas don’t try anything too radical. The Earth, Wind & Fire-sampling ‘It’s Sunny’ is too cheesy, and ‘Aye Muthaf***a’ slips in some Rihanna-style dancehall beats, but elsewhere ‘TLC’ offers a familiar mix of breezy R&B tunes and folky self-acceptance jams. “Either you’re too young to matter or you’re way too old / Public opinion is so hot and cold,” they sing poignantly on standout ‘Haters’.
Yet this doesn’t mean the girls have surrendered their edge. They always specialised in not-too-subtle sex jams, and although ‘Scandalous’ is less specific than ’90s classic ‘Red Light Special’ – which referenced cunnilingus – it’s just as sultry and self-assured. Another spiky late-album cut suggests T-Boz and Chilli don’t refer to douchey dudes as “scrubs” any more – they’re now “muthaf***as”.
Naturally, ‘TLC’ suffers from a lack of Left Eye, whose explosive raps cut through the group’s more sensual moments. She appears in a mid-album interlude with an interview excerpt and samples of her ad-libs. It’s an unexpectedly touching moment on an album that’s filled with them. When TLC sing, “Thank you for being by my side / Hope you all enjoy the ride,” on ‘Joy Ride’, a song aimed at fans, it’s hard not to feel a little emotional.