Special Delivery:

"Fanmail" from TLC

The U.S. Postal Service raised its rates last week, but that didn't slow "Silly Ho," the first single from FanMail. The highly-anticipated album is being delivered by one of the most popular female trios of the '90s -- TLC.

After a four-year hiatus marked by personal growth and professional discovery (a polite way of saying the group was in a battle for mo' money, mo' money), TLC is back with a 12-cut LP that picks up where they left off -- pumping hits on urban radio and into the hearts and feet of fans around the world.

Appropiately, TLC's third album on LaFace Records distributed through Arista is titled Fanmail, a tribute, the ladies say, to their fans. And even before the release of the album (scheduled for February 23), TLC fans put their stamp of approval on TLC's latest sound. According to LaFace GM Dorsey James, the album's debut single, "Silly Ho," was not intended to garner much radio play.

"It is a very street, urban club record. It's really not a radio record," James explained, adding that fans were requesting the record so much radio began adding it nationwide. James reports an audience impression of 18 million in the second week of January.

"That's the power of this group," he adds. "Once fans figured out they were back, they lit up the request lines."

And once Fanmail is released, that trend will continue. The album is a drop-the-needle-anywhere potpourri of curvaceous cuts, juicy jams, and sexy sonatas. Oh yea, TLC still surrounds songs with that femme fatale vivacious vibe. Add to that the line-up of producers on Fanmail and there is proof positive this LP is destined to be one of the hottest albums of the year.

The album retains an Atlanta flavor with seven tracks produced by A-T-L's own Dallas Austin. Another one reflects the extraordinary producing talents of city resident and So So Def owner, Jermaine Dupri.

The album is a drop-the-needle-anywhere potpourri of curvaceous cuts, juicy jams and sexy sonatas.

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis produced one cut with other all-star line-up from Babyface and Diane Warren who added their hit-making writing to a cut. Group member T-Boz collaborated with Austin for writing credit on another. Hot young producer, Shekspeare, produced what will probably be the second single, the urban radio-friendly, "No Scrubs." It's a mid-tempo jam that tells about turning away less-than-desirable elements. As usual, the ladies lay low with their vocals, delicately soloing at times, and then coming together for their trademark honey-honed harmony.

Other possible singles include the sure-hit, Babyface-produced slow jam, "Dear Lie" and "Unpretty," a favorite of group member Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes.

"There's a message -- it has to do with finding the beauty within one's self," she told BRE.

Guitar paces this self-analytical and hopeful up-tempo sonata. It's catchy and will flavor radio with a different beat. For the hip-hop hungry, "My Life" is a groove motivated by the rapid-fire pace Jermaine Dupri fans clamor for. The cut builds cleverly to Left Eye's prophetic and poetic rap. Listeners will get up and groove to "My Life" -- guaranteed.

Certainly part of TLC's attention is its ability to cross genre categories and embellish several musical styles in one cut, as on "Shout." This is a raucous, pumping, bass-driven jam that will hook listeners with its bodaciousness. And again, Left Eye rolls into the cut with her festive rap. Another jaunty jam is "If They Knew," a hard-hitting story of illicit love and the drama of a cover-up. The ladies' vocals are as strong as ever, evidence that their absence from the scene has not harmed their ability to lay it on thick and creamy.

A slow-down tune comes in the form of "Come On Down." TLC seduces with streetwise sexiness that suggestive without being graphic. Another savory soliloquy is "Don't Pull Out On Me Yet," a country-style cut complemented by strings and finger taps. This is the sexy song, the turn-on-the-red-light, wear-only-the-scent-of-seduction, close-the-bedroom-door cut. Suggestive? You bet. It saunters into a room like a chanteuse on a steamy Saturday night in the smoke-filled dive of choice. And that's what makes it hot and will spin it to the top of the charts and into the arms of lovers everywhere. And then there's the title tune, "FanMail," a funky, pulsating beat-driven dedication to TLC fans. "Just like you!" the trio echoes in the chorus to the fans who inundate their mailbox.

"Fanmail has a lot of personality," declares Left Eye. "It's about individuality. We've always been hard to put into a category, and it will remain that way. There's a feel of pop, hip-hop, R&B, even some techno."

Adds James, "We're really excited about the project. It's a tremendous album. Creatively, it's as good as the last album."

Then LaFace has plenty to be excited about. TLC's last album, "CrazySexyCool," sold more than 8 million copies.

Out of the picture for several years, it's obvious TLC has been able to maintain its ability to provide a fresh approach to today's urban music scene, which more and more is enjoyed by listeners of all ages and ethnic make-up.

"There's no formula. It all comes from within," Left Eye asserts. "We've gone through things with the people who write for us and work for us. We've maintained that chemistry."

For much of the '90s, TLC has entertained the world with its provocative videos and cutting edge music. Fanmail will propel that tradition well in the new millenium.

From BRE Magazine

January 15, 1999