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Ooooooohhh... On The TLC Tip - CrazySexyCool - Fanmail - 3D
TLC was formed in the early 90s by three young women with very
different, complementary vocal styles: T-Boz with a deep, husky
bedroom voice, Chilli with a very clear tone and a more reserved
style, and Left Eye contributing rambunctious, high-pitched raps.
Left Eye has been most involved in writing and production, though T-Boz
participated more in their 1999 release Fanmail; most of their
hits have been written and produced by Dallas Austin or Babyface. Salt-N-Pepa beat TLC to the punch in
terms of their pop/R&B/hip-hop hybrid, and their pro-sex, pro-woman
attitude, but TLC's distinctive sense of style (wearing everything
from condoms to potato sacks) and youthful enthusiasm won them made them the best-selling female pop trio of all time.
The group generated its share of controversy, with frequent rumors of an impending breakup, and the sudden death of Lopes in a car accident was the last straw. I believe the remaining two conducted a reality show search for a replacement, but I don't know if anything ever came of it.
T-Boz (Tionne Watkins), sexy vocals; Left Eye (Lisa
Lopes), crazy vocals; Chilli (Rozonda Thomas), cool
Ooooooohhh... On The TLC Tip (1992)
Signed to LA Reid & Babyface's
LaFace label, and mostly produced by Dallas Austin, this R&B/hip-
hop/pop trio shot to stardom. The three hit singles here hint at
the group's versatility: "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" (not the
Temptations tune) is joyfully raunchy,
sex-positive and assertive, if a bit silly; "Baby-Baby-Baby" is a
ballad, in LaFace's cookie-cutter style; and "What About Your
Friends" is the album's centerpiece, a moody reflection on fame,
fortune and friendship with a devastating Left Eye rap. Beyond the
singles, though, the album is pretty thin: tracks like "Hat 2 Da
Back" just replay "Ain't Too Proud"'s funky bounce, while the Marley Marl hip-hop tracks ("Das Da
Way We Like 'Em," "This Is How It Should Be Done") never really get
going. Jermaine Dupri produces one
track, the forgettable "Bad By Myself," and LaFace's album tracks
are no better ("Somethin' You Wanna Know"). Austin also contributes
the well-intentioned but flat feminist anthem "His Story." (DBW)
In 1993, TLC hit with a version of The
Time's "Give It Up," from the Poetic Justice movie
Incredibly successful; Left Eye's run-in with the law shortly
before the album's release probably didn't hurt sales, but the
album is a big step forward musically as well: Babyface contributes
two classics, the catchy, bubble-gum "Diggin' On You" and the
sultry "Red Light Special" (yeouch!); Austin wrote the sensuous
leadoff single "Creep," a defense of infidelity; Left Eye, Dupri
and Manuel Seal add the sassy "Switch"; Left Eye also co-wrote the
contemplative, cautionary "Waterfalls." There are no terrible
tracks here, just some routine filler ("Kick Your Game," "Case Of
The Fake People" - a rerun of "What About Your Friends").
Most bizarre is a note-for-note copy of Prince's "If I Was Your Girlfriend,"
heightening the song's gender confusion, but without the master's
keening vocals. Incidentally, the title isn't a reference to the
group's members, but refers to the three sides of every woman.
TLC also appeared on the Waiting To
Exhale Soundtrack in 1995.
Fan Mail (1999)
After a public feud and near-split with Austin over his producer's fee,
the group ended up having him write and produce most of this record, and
it's by far their most consistent. Austin's adventurous use of
electronic sounds is the defining sound of the album, both on dance
grooves ("Unpretty," "Shout") and ballads ("Lovesick") - he's the true
heir to the Stevie/Prince tradition, not the retro imitators like Maxwell. Austin's smooth
arrangement of "Come On Down" makes it the only Dianne Warren song I've ever wanted to
hear twice, and his own material is tuneful and engaging (the closing
"Don't Pull Out On Me Yet"). Jimmy Jam & Terry
Lewis have one contribution, the raunchy guilty pleasure "I'm Good
At Being Bad" (with a quote from "Love To
Love You Baby"), Jermaine Dupri
turns in "My Life," and Babyface is restricted to just two tracks: the
fine acoustic love song "I Miss You So Much," and a less successful shot
at the same target, "Dear Lie." The weakness of the album is a lack of
variety: now that hip hop is dominating sales charts, the group seems to
have abandoned it - guest Vic-E raps on "Silly Ho," but Left Eye doesn't
get a single extended rap to herself - and a few breaks from all the
smooth grinds would have made for a more exciting listening experience.
Still, the strong songwriting and the group's increasingly assured
vocals carry the day. (DBW)
Supernova (Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes: 2001)
Never released in the States after the vaguely Latin leadoff single, "The Block Party," stiffed. Guests include
Carl Thomas, Blaque, and Tupac Shakur. Some six months after this release, Lopes was killed in a car accident in Honduras.
The old producers are back with a couple of new ones - Eddie Hustle contributed two of the best tracks, "Good Love" and the single "Girl Talk" - but the innovative spark is gone. Austin's
electronics are as prominent as ever, but they're not as arresting, and rapidly settle into sterile loops ("Quickie").
"Give It To Me While It's Hot" is a weak Rodney Jerkins attempt at dancefloor sexiness a la "Good At Being Bad." And there are two shabby retreads of "Unpretty": Jerkins' "Turntable" uses the
guitar sound, while Austin's "Damaged" is embarrassing fake soul-baring - in fact, none of the lyrics here are up to the standard of the previous discs.
Missy Elliott and Timbaland's "Dirty Dirty" is far from a stretch for them: midtempo banging with a vaguely atonal hook, exactly like
"Get Ur Freak On" or "Work It," but in this context it's outstanding. The one real winner is Raphael Saadiq's lovely ballad "So So Dumb."
Though most of the record was recorded after the sudden death of Lopes, she participates a bit more than she did on Fanmail, contributing brief raps here and there (the kissoff "Over Me").