The conception and execution of TLC's new self-titled album has brought some uncomfortable realities to light.
I should preface this review and commentary by saying that I'm probably one of the biggest TLC fans alive. I know all of the songs (including unreleased cuts and demos even TLC forgot they recorded), have heard every interview, watched every performance, and can point out every inaccuracy in their now 4-year-old VH1 biopic. So, be aware that my assessments aren't coming from a shallow, "casual-listener" angle. Now that's been said...
Part One: The Review
Likes: Way Back, Joy Ride
Dislikes: Scandalous, Aye Muthafu*ka, It's Sunny, Haters
Overall: Undeserving of being self-titled, TLC falls flat and short of expectations. A sea of mediocrity with a few gems here and there.
Let's just get it out of the way: God, the universe, the spirit of Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, or any other energy did TLC a solid by "inspiring" Jay-Z to drop his newest album on the same day as theirs. Their self-titled release went quietly into the night like Sam Fisher. It crept just beneath the gaze of black Twitter, which swarmed with celebratory, tea-sipping tweets about the lyrical content of Jay-Z's 4:44. This spared TLC the dragging that otherwise would have been inevitable, because this is arguably the worst album they've ever done. The 17-track deluxe LP is a product of a Kickstarter fundraiser, so for all intents and purposes, hardly anyone knows it exists yet. What little fandom I have left within me is relieved. After the initial high-hopes and fan support, followed by social media flubs, drama, and general public dissent regarding TLC's integrity, the quality of this project (or lack thereof) is an added insult.
In fate's irony, Left Eye was destined to represent the middle acronym of the group's name, as she was their creative nucleus. Want to know what happens to a cell when you remove its nucleus? Listen to TLC. Aside from 2 or 3 tracks, the album is a smorgasbord of uninspired nonevents. Its dated ditties are comprised of monotonous and lifeless music, with aimless and cliché, if not corny, lyrics. "We don't need scrubs chasing waterfalls" is one of the first "catchy," nonsensical hooks you'll hear in the opening "No Introduction," setting the lyrical tone for the rest of the record. The highlights were "Joy Ride" and the lead single, "Way Back." "Joy Ride" is an amazing, 'soul-meets-jazz' pop song with funk icing. It's a sound that's different, yet, just familiar enough for T-Boz and Chilli to bring it to life. A domineering bass holds a bright brass section, thumping electric guitars and syncopated piano chords in place, while T-Boz and Chilli's stacked harmonies fill every crevice of the lyrics. It's only the second song in their entire discography where just T-Boz and Chilli did all of the background vocals, so it is clear the intent was to make a personal connection, and it worked. Still, it can only be appreciated outside the context of its tumultuous, poorly crafted surroundings. Hearing it as the intended conclusion will leave a sour aftertaste and an overwhelming bitter-sweetness that the "Ride" is definitely over for one of the most iconic girl-groups in history. "Way Back" is a mid-tempo ode to 1990's west-coast hip-hop. It suits the ladies' voices well, and it has enough synth bass and percussive knocks to feel fresh, rather than dated. It's what you would expect from TLC, but just a tad safer in subject-matter to be construed as the lead single. It's melodic structure and "feel good" chord progression makes it a standout. It's biggest fault, however, is Snoop Dogg's featured verse. He talked about nothing for over a minute: he likes weed and women, is looking for one or both, and is on a song with TLC. If alive, I know Left Eye would have given a hot 16 bars--or even a warm 8 bar--that would've been exponentially more intriguing. Also, why couldn't the one guest spot on the record be for a female rapper? Given the platform TLC established, you'd think it would be, but I digress.