We gave it a B-
“We don’t need no introduction,” sing the two surviving members of TLC at the start of their first album in 15 years.
But, apparently, they do think they need some kind of recap. Towards the start of their comeback release, out Friday, the pair offers prominent shout-outs to their biggest hits, “No Scrubs” and “Waterfalls,” setting up an album rife with retro references.
TLC — the only full set of songs to appear since the death of the group’s third member, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, in 2002 — courts nostalgia at every turn. The music consistently references the hip-hop-inflected R&B of the group’s ’90s prime, offering just a few nods to the modern sound of trap. In “Way Back,” the group serves up a decent G-funk rehash, boosted by a guest rap from — who else? — Snoop Dogg. For “It’s Sunny,” they slink back further, sampling Bobby Hebb’s 1966 lounge standard “Sunny,” as well as Earth Wind and Fire’s ubiquitous ’70s party jam, “September.”
TLC’s two remaining stars, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, didn’t try to replace their “L” member with a new rapper. As a result, the new music leans towards their pop side. It also largely steers clear of attitude. Only “Aye Motherf—er” revives the old sass. (“You’re trippin’ and I could care less about it/ You should have known/ It don’t work that way.”)
The singers did move ahead in one sense: Their nostalgia is informed by a mature perspective. In key tracks, they offer sage advice to younger women with self-esteem issues (“Haters,” “Perfect Girl”). In the tradition of “Unpretty,” they sing, “Perfect girls ain’t real/ They hide who they are inside/ It’s always on your mind / ‘Cause you’re online all the time/ Gotta learn to love yourself, inside and out.”
In other tracks, they express loyalty and durability, both to each other and to their audience (“Way Back,” “Joy Ride”). “The road got lonely,” they sing in the latter. “Sometimes I was afraid/ But luckily I had you/ To ride the wave/ Thank you for stayin’ by my side/ Hope you all enjoy the ride.” Yes, TLC easily could have gotten away with naming the album Girlz 2 Women.
But if the new songs are likable enough, none eclipse those of their peak. Luckily, TLC has always had as much to do with an emotional connection as with the music. Here, they stoke it in ways likely to give longtime fans a nice glow.
“Sunny” features the sort of sweet R&B-pop melody that has become a Madonna specialty.
“American Gold” is a rare political song from TLC, addressing the country in the age of terror.