With the 10 years TLC logged in the music industry, they were trailblazers, not just for girl groups, but for recording artists in general. They released three consecutive multi-platinum albums, scored slews of top-10 hits and #1 smashes, recorded one of the mere six R&B albums to sell over 10 million copies, and became the most-successful girl group of all time (Destiny’s Child be damned). By 2003, they were musical icons.
Then unimaginable tragedy struck when 1/3 of their sisterhood, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, was tragically killed in a car accident. Up to that point, what had been most admirable about T-Boz, Left-Eye and Chilli was that no matter how much personal turmoil, strife or tension existed between the three of them at any given time, they were always able to pull it together when need be and record yet another remarkable album. But with their sister, bandmate, and creative nucleus gone, everyone quickly, and understandably, assumed that the legacy of TLC had come to an end.
Well, everyone except for T-Boz and Chilli, who were more than determined to complete the album the three of them had started. And, just a mere 7 months after Lisa’s death, TLC issued forth their swan song, 3D.
Now with the exception of their debut album, Ooh!Ã¢Â?Â¦On The TLC Tip, it was evident that Left Eye’s presence was never a dominant fixture on a TLC album. Her comical yet introspective yet stimulating raps and ad-libs might lace a handful of records but the majority of the albums were left up to T-Boz, Chilli and the producers at hand. 3D is no exception; Left Eye appears on 4 of the 13 records present and leaves little doubt that TLC would’ve essentially recorded the same record, regardless of whether Left Eye was dead or alive.
The album kicks off in true TLC fashion with the title track; a triplicate of overlapped backing vocals repeating what the title represents morphing into a synth-and-drum brigade that sounds like an over-caffienated cheerleader’s anthem, with T-Boz and Chilli on top of the pyramid chanting their hearts out. This quickly segues into yet another patented male-bashing anthem that was destined to become a TLC staple. Only these ladies could take the discussion of premature ejaculation and turn it into a comically enlightening experience as they do with Quickie.
Dallas Austin plays the evil genius on the production boards, using an acoustic guitar as the bassline alongside metronome tocks and synth bells and whistles, T-Boz and Chilli play the sexually frustrated girlfriends on the verses/hooks, and Left Eye the expected ringmaster of such a circus, instructing us on the art of “Left Pimping”. Classic TLC fare such as this hints at what the possible outcome for this project could’ve been had the ladies stayed focused on crafting more charismatic joints such as this one.
Girl Talk keeps the male-bashing train rolling full steam ahead; all 3 ladies broadcasting their men’s bedroom insufficiencies to the neighborhood before advising other men to make sure all their bragging and boasting be backed up when called for, unless they too want to become laughingstocks inside the world of females. While not as catchy nor memorable as “Quickie”, its still a classic TLC moment that hints once again at the potential this album had.
What follows is the heartfelt dedication to Left Eye, Turntable. Produced by Rodney Jerkins, the record is a surprisingly stripped-down and natural affair. Shedding his trademark synths and drum machines in favor of live instrumentation, the record has a smooth and subtle melancholic yet optimistic vibe; sounding like both a dedication to their sister and an inspirational tune to themselves to encourage them to move past such a tragic loss. But it may have been a bad idea to place the dedication to Left Eye so early in on the record. Acknowledging her death, and the loss of such a creative force for the group, kinda casts a subtle pall over the remainder of the album; almost symbolizing the death of TLC after just three tracks and leaving the rest of the record to be considered as the best leftovers that could be comprised.
However, that’s not to say the album is all downhill from here since the worst of TLC’s leftovers is still enjoyably average at best; The Neptunes step in and create a smooth and summery groove for the girls to get seductive and flex their macking skills on with In Your Arms Tonight. Rodney makes a repeat appearance with overloaded synths and drum machines on the insanely catchy Over Me. And Babyface shows a slinkier and edgier side of himself, both lyrically and musically, on Hands Up, using a snarling synth-bassline, handclaps, name-checking Krispy Kremes; the whole nine.
Yet, it’s Dallas who once again steals the show by creating the most mainstream record TLC’s ever recorded; the straight-laced pop/rocker, Damaged. Leaving all traces of anything R&B, hip-hop, or remotely urban behind, he opts for a sitar, both electric and acoustic guitars, and real drums to support T-Boz’s poetic words of wisdom. It’s a different direction for TLC, much in the vein of “Unpretty”, but attests even more to their creative brilliance and the genuine versatility they possessed.
Now you can usually count on Tim and Missy to keep the creative juices flowing but it’s safe to say their contribution, Dirty Dirty, isn’t for everyone. Their unruly assault of buzzing synths and chainsaws and Lord knows what else is liable to keep hearts pumping and asses shaking on the floor but it also an experiment and prime example of what can happen when crunk goes electronic, noisy, and just kinda wrong.
Thankfully, Raphael Saadiq steps in and saves the record from an abysmal collision with mediocrity since he is incapable of composing a bad record. And So So Dumb perpetuates such an ideal. With his signature bassline and 808, Raphael easily creates the most soulful tune on the record and demonstrates again the sheer brilliance and versatility that T-Boz and Chilli possess. Their voices are well-suited for such an arrangement and the lyricism at least adds a newfound depth to their consistent male-bashing.
Good Love is a bright and sunny yet terribly corny love song that fails miserably at turning T-Boz and Chilli into mainstream pop singers and is best left skipped. Rodney emerges for the third time with a dark and slinky synth-and-drum routine for the anything-but-repetitive Hey Hey Hey Hey. And the album closes out in the same vein as it began; in classic TLC fashion thanks to Organized Noize’s composition, Give It To Me While It’s Hot. Dripping with sensuality, the edgy, dirty funk of the instrumentation mixed with the seductive lyricism and Left Eye’s poetic observations causes the record to sizzle and smolder with an aura of mystique that ensures our final thoughts of TLC will be pleasurable, to say the least.
Considering the events and circumstances surrounding this record, it is an impressive to listen to this record and see what T-Boz and Chilli were able to accomplish in such a short period of time. Yet, it’s apparent that this record isn’t all it was meant to be or even all that it wants you to believe it is. As I said, there’s little doubt that TLC would’ve essentially recorded the same record, regardless of whether Left Eye was dead or alive. But even thought Left Eye wasn’t a dominant presence, the lack of her presence is still felt and the album just isn’t as brilliant as it could be without it.
However sad yet true it may be, all good things must come to an end and even though TLC’s end came prematurely, at least they were able to go out with somewhat of a bang, content with knowing they revolutionized music and can now let their legacy, as well as Left Eye, rest in peace.