The new TLC record feels less icky to me than the last Who tour, but I'm not sure why. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey explained their quick return to the road in July with a well-paid session guy in John Entwistle's place as a tribute to the enduring spirit of their departed friend and bandmate; Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas would likely say the same of 3D and the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes -- actually, they pretty much do in the CD's liner notes.
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Some of this can probably be chalked up to hip-hop's revolving-door approach to studiocraft: Eight different producers, each with an established sound, contributed to 3D, so if Lopes only shows up on a handful of tracks via work completed prior to her death and outtakes from her U.K.-only solo album, Supernova, it's not exactly like Paul, George and Ringo cobbling together new Beatles songs out of John's scratch vocals. (Oh, wait . . .) But that reality (and the persistence of long-running breakup rumors) overlooks the real chemistry TLC displayed during its decade as a group together, as the members matured from bravely dressed around-the-way girls to bravely dressed future-shock robo-babes, an infectious esprit de corps that's still palpable on 3D, even when Lopes isn't actually in the mix. More than that, though, there's an unexpected gravitas to the music here, a glimmer of sadness that acknowledges a loved one's absence in a way a hasty show at the Hollywood Bowl never could. These kids aren't all right, but they will be.