Disclaimers and confessions, first.
Disclaimer: I don’t listen to “urban music” (unless you consider Utada Hikaru “urban”), so if it shows in the next few paragraphs, you’ve been duly warned.
Confession: I probably wouldn’t have been curious about this album if it weren’t for the death of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
Even if a listener actively ignored such chart-topping fodder as “Waterfalls” and “No Scrubs”, it was hard not to notice Lopes’ headline-grabbing flamboyancy. Burning mansions aside, how often does one member of a group challenge her colleagues to make solo albums, just to see who’s best?
Lopes recorded a few tracks for 3D before she was killed in a car crash while vacationing in Honduras in April 2002. It’s those tracks which makes the case for Lopes’ contribution to the trio. TLC, on the whole, may have provided a voice for strong-willed women everywhere, but Lopes in particular gave the group its edginess.
Nowhere is that charm more apparent than on “Quickie”, where Lopes plays a school marm lecturing her male audience about “Left Pimping”. “As you can see,” Lopes chimes in a nasal voice, “it’s located in a region near your manhood named ‘unsatisfying’.”
Lopes stands up on “Over Me”, when she addresses the group’s well-publicized woes: “When the house burned down, I took the blame/When the money got funny, I took it to court/When most of your chicks wouldn’t have even fought.”
Even when Lopes isn’t around, TLC still manage to keep the momentum going, getting sexy on the Neptunes-written “In Your Arms Tonight” or chiding unfaithful lovers on the slow burning “Hands Up”.
R&B is generally a plain-spoken genre, not prone to using metaphor or vague imagery as rock ‘n’ roll. In the wrong hands, that plain-spoken-ness can produce some pedestrian results.
Not so on 3D. T-Boz and Chilli may have a few choice words for the guys who don’t respect them, but they seldom ever sound like they’re posturing. Even ballads such as “Turntable” and “Damaged” feel more anthemic than histrionic.
3D reaches its apex on the Timbaland and Missy Elliott contribution “Dirty Dirty”, where the group shows the world (if not Christina Aguilera) that being dirty doesn’t have to mean being a tramp.
After that, the album deflates considerably, losing its steam over a series of unremarkable tracks. “Give It To Me While It’s Hot”, however, makes for a nice conclusion, leaving 3D on a less manic but still high note.
Despite the non-musical context of the album, 3D is a lot of fun.
Even if T-Boz and Chilli don’t have the most powerful voices in the world, they possess charisma to give their work some real honesty. You don’t feel sorry at all for the guy with his hands up in the air with hoochies everywhere.
And with Left Eye’s palpatable contribution on the album, it’s quite sad to consider the prospect of more TLC releases of little more than vault material.