15 years after the death of Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes and disappointing response to 3D looked to have ended the turbulent TLC story for good, Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas and Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins now return with a self-titled fifth studio effort that, typically for the group, hasn’t exactly been plain sailing.
Indeed, having asked fans to fund the record via Kickstarter – said fans then began demanding jail sentences for the pair after they failed to deliver it in time for the scheduled date of October 2015. Perhaps to appease their more disgruntled, and slightly terrifying backers, T-Boz and Chilli then gave them the responsibility of naming it, only for the laughably unimaginative TLC to emerge as the most popular choice.
Throw in some garish cover artwork – which looks like it was thrown together on a first year graphic design student’s lunch break – and TLC appeared to be tainting rather than extending their girl band legacy.
Thankfully, their eponymous LP isn’t as messy as its inception would have you believe. Sure, it’s nowhere in the same league as the seminal CrazySexyCool and the innovative concept album FanMail, and the absence of Left Eye – apart from a touching brief posthumous appearance on “Interlude” – is still keenly felt. But there are still a handful of tracks here which can sit comfortably alongside their incredible mid-late 90s canon.
None more so than the breezy lead single “Way Back,” which combines peppy synths, T-Boz’s signature husky tones and multiple references to late musical icons (“like Prince and Marvin Gaye/like South Side on Sunday”) with the trademark laid-back rhymes of guest star Snoop Dogg to produce an infectious throwback to the G-funk era.
Elsewhere, opener “No Introduction” sets the nostalgic tone ahead with its bouncy old school hip-pop production and shoutouts to their biggest hits; the guitar-led melancholy of “Perfect Girls” updates the self-empowering message of “Unpretty” for the Instagram generation to powerful effect; while the squelchy bass, trap beats and ravey synths of “Scandalous” prove that even 25 years into their career there ain’t no party like a TLC party.
But like its predecessor, TLC sometimes finds the duo playing catch-up instead of setting the pace. In fact, the dated Europop of “It’s Sunny” might just be the cheapest TLC have ever sounded – its tinny production and unimaginative Boney M sample more suited to a low-rent YouTube star than one of the world’s most forward-thinking and esteemed R&B acts.
Resembling a reject from The Great Gatsby soundtrack, the jazz-tinged “Aye Muthafucka” is just as misguided. Indeed, with its jarring repeated use of the title – which makes T-Boz and Chilli resemble two giggling teenagers who have only just discovered the F-word – it’s virtually bordering on parody.
But on the whole the likes of long-time fan Katy Perry, recent touring partners New Kids on the Block and unlikely “Waterfalls” cover artist Bette Midler – just three of several famous faces who pledged money to the project – can consider their money well spent.