Browsing the Kickstarter page for TLC’s new self-titled (and supposedly final) record makes one thing absurdly clear: Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas revel in nostalgia. References to their hits (“You’ll always have a guy hanging out the passenger side! And sometimes you’ll feel damn unpretty!”) hang right next to pictures from the ‘90s and early ‘00s with captions that offer fun insights into them: “This right here was from CrazySexyCool when you know we really started to embrace a more feminine tomboyish style. We ripped the jeans and we ripped the shirts all by ourselves.”
Fittingly, TLC reemerges at a time for peak ‘90s nostalgia, making the record a fun and frustrating listen in equal measure. Even the members themselves can’t help but wink at their own work from the ‘90s (“We don’t need no scrubs chasing waterfalls/ Just have that red light when the money calls”). That line comes from the overly busy opener “No Introduction” and immediately sets the album’s tone. Despite the title, T-Boz and Chilli spend the song arguing for their importance, suggesting that they’ve never heard of the “show, don’t tell” rule.
With the album’s nadir out of the way early, the rest of the 40-minute LP gently floats by like a summer breeze. The album appears to be engineered for summertime, right down to its Technicolor cover. The brightest of the bunch, “It’s Sunny,” rides a sample of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” and borrows the first verse and part of the chorus of Bobby Hebb’s own “Sunny” for a slice of unabashed, “school’s out” jubilation. Even relationship-oriented songs “Way Back” and the unfortunately named “Aye Muthafucka” have a certain blue-sky exuberance to them. Beyond the lighthearted nature of it all, there are elements buried in the mix for astute listeners to discover. The tumbling piano plinks on “Perfect Girls,” the searing lead guitar of “American Gold” and the itchy, slinking guitars of “Joy Ride” all contribute to TLC’s replay value.
The same cannot be said of the lyrical content, a large chunk of which is ground already covered. Whether forcing an updated take on an important message from “Unpretty” (“Perfect Girls”), frank, borderline cringeworthy discussion about sex (“Scandalous”) or declaring that haters don’t matter while making the point to bring them up anyway (“Haters”), TLC’s penchant for plainspoken musings on life are desperately lacking throughout the album. To that end, TLC is a more enjoyable listen when your attention is focused on the melodies and production.
Given that this album is meant to be an epitaph of sorts for the group’s career, its quasi-superficial nature can be forgiven to a degree. Yet, albums designed to remind listeners of an artist’s greatness are supposed to do just that—remind. Instead, TLC beats you over the head with references and nods to their past glories and makes you want to hear those songs instead. The sad paradox of the album is that, while it doesn’t have a career-defining hit like “No Scrubs” or “Creep,” the deluxe edition nonetheless tacks on remastered versions of them—as if to suggest you should be listening to FanMail or CrazySexyCool in place of this. If TLC accomplishes one thing, it’s that it shows the distinction between being nostalgic and reliving the past.