TLC – CrazySexyCool (LaFace, Arista)

CD / DL / LP

Released: November 15, 1994.

TLC’s pioneering blend of rap and R&B made them the top-selling female band in U.S. history. One of the main reasons for this was their album, CrazySexyCool, which has still sold more copies than any other girl group in the U.S. With it just having reached it’s twentieth anniversary now seems like a great time for a re-appraisal, which is exactly what Fat Gat Vegan has done for us. Find it below along with a full album stream at the foot of the page.

Twenty years is a lifetime in the pop world but time melts away on playback of the mega smash hit long player CrazySexyCool by superstar vocal group TLC.

The 23-million selling collection took the band to the top of the charts all over the planet with polished R&B tunes that were perfectly crafted by the leading producers of the day. CrazySexyCool meant TLC members Tionne ’T-Boz’ Watkins, Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas and Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes’ were catapulted into the realm of pop royalty, while simultaneously scrabbling for payment and control over their musical legacy.

CrazySexyCool is the second album from Atlanta-based vocal group TLC and it continued the sex positive message on which the band had built their early persona. The themes of this sophomore effort included women dictating when and how they engaged in sex, women directing how they want to be loved and women showing players what it feels like to be played in return.

This second album was produced by some of the biggest names in the music world including Dallas Austin, Babyface, Sean Combs and Jermaine Dupri. The sound of TLC was heavily shaped by these men who ironed out the Left Eye-driven fun-loving cacophony of early tracks such as Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg and Hat 2 Da Back, instead steering the women towards more mainstream-friendly songs such as Red Light Special, Creep, Let’s Do It Again and Take Our Time.

 

As a fan, I felt rapper Left Eye was pushed out by several forces. Perhaps the men behind the scenes had their eyes on the payout. TLC was a cash cow set for massive things following on from the runaway success of their debut 1992 album Oooooooh… On The TLC Tip. That rap-heavy disc featured Lopes as co-writer or writer on ten tracks and the direction of the group seemed focussed around her.

Left Eye was also battling legal woes following on from an arson charge and a rehab stint supposedly connected to alcohol dependency. TLC was coming apart at the seams as CrazySexyCool was becoming one of the biggest selling albums by a female group in history. T-Boz was constantly struggling with effects of her sickle-cell anaemia, while Chilli was by her own admission still dealing with her decision to terminate a pregnancy with group writer/producer Dallas Austin.

The band was also struggling financially amid claims they were forced to file for bankruptcy due to contractual turbulence with original manager Pebbles. Having sold tens of millions of records, the women were left with very little money. This is one of the saddest but most often-recounted stories in the pop world. Young people sign constrictive contracts that allow no breathing room when runaway sales come knocking. TLC even had to buy the rights to their name and image from their first manager in order to keep the show on the road.

As you can see, it is easy to become swept up in the drama of TLC but it was the music on CrazySexyCool that the public were lapping up.

Waterfalls was the best of everything TLC had to offer at the time. The rambunctious new jack swing of earlier material had been replaced by funky R&B with the smoothest of production values furnished by Organize Noize of Atlanta. Members of this production crew co-wrote the song with Left Eye who delivers one of the most defining raps of her career. T-Boz uses the verses to warn young people of the dangers related to gang activity and unprotected sex while the music and harmonies are irresistible.

The song became one of the highest selling releases of 1995 and showed where a mature TLC could go sonically while retaining the crucial ingredient of Left Eye. Waterfalls is still a staple of mainstream radio in 2014, although sadly it’s the radio edit devoid of the rap that often makes it to air. The song is so well known and loved it has even been recorded by Bette Midler this year for her cover album of female artists. Extra info while we are at it: a little known fact about the tune that became the most well-known of the TLC catalogue is that CeeLo Green sang backing vocals.

CrazySexyCool contains fantastic pop and R&B songs that make for an album with no dud tracks. Diggin’ On You wasn’t an all-conquering radio smash in the vein of Waterfalls, but it certainly is one of the freshest sounding pop songs to emerge from the era while penultimate track Switch is simply a whole lot of fun. After almost being treated as an afterthought throughout the long player, Left Eye returns to close out the album with a darker, self-penned rap on Sumthin’ Wicked This Way Comes. It highlights what an essential component her voice and life views were to the overall TLC package.

The album is a shining example of mid-90s R&B, peppered with just enough pop and rap to ensure maximum appeal. R&B, rap, pop and even middle of the road radio stations kept the singles from CrazySexyCool in near-constant rotation. The production gurus made the long player one of the slickest music collections around and it is often still found on must-listen lists compiled by popular culture buffs.

CrazySexyCool’s follow up, FanMail, opened the door wider for Left Eye to return to the fold which resulted in a futuristic, grittier and more accomplished sound. Her tragic death a few years later put an end to her talent so we must look back on her contributions (such as the 20-year old CrazySexyCool) to remind ourselves how she helped TLC become one of the most celebrated musical acts on the planet.

Full album stream:

 

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All words by FGV whose Louder Than War author’s archive is here.  He’s also a vegan blogger whose website is here: fatgayvegan.com and he tweets as @FatGayVegan.

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