Album Review

TLC's 'CrazySexyCool' at 20: Classic Track-by-Track Album Review

TLC CrazySexyCool album cover

TLC CrazySexyCool album cover

Technically, they should’ve called it CoolCrazySexy. After all, each word in the title of this Atlanta R&B trio’s sophomore album corresponds to one of the group’s members, just like the letters T, L, and C.

Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins was undeniably cool. Rapper Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was known to act a little crazy. Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas took the already-high sexiness quotient up a notch. If they’d wanted keep things nice and neat, TLC would have stuck to that order. Nice and neat wasn’t really their thing, though, and besides, CrazySexyCool had a better ring to it. When the album hit shelves on Nov. 15, 1994 -- 20 years ago today -- no one sweated that minor detail.

Instead, fans bought CDs by the truckload, keeping the album on the Billboard 200 for more than two years and making TLC the first girl group to score a diamond LP, signifying sales of more than 10 million. (To date, CrazySexyCool has moved 23 million units, a record for American girl groups. Worldwide, only the Spice Girls have done better, and they had five people, so it’s apples and crumpets.)

The success of CrazySexyCool was due to the disc’s singles. All four landed in the top five of the Hot 100, and two reached No. 1. One of those chart-toppers, “Waterfalls,” stands as one of the decade's greatest songs, and in so far as it used hip-hop, soul, and a big-budget CGI video to sell social messages concerning inner-city drug abuse and the spread of HIV/AIDS, it’s ‘94 to the core. It’s also timeless.

“Waterfalls” is one of the few CrazySexyCool tracks that truly is TLC -- as in all three ladies blending their distinct voices as they had on their 1992 debut, Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip. A lot had happened in the nearly three years since these sexy tomboys in the baggy jeans bedazzled with condoms arrived on the scene. Most notably, Left Eye had been convicted of arson after nearly burning down then-boyfriend Andre Rison’s mansion, and her court-mandated rehab overlapped with the CrazySexyCool sessions.

Lopes’ raps are notably absent on many of these tracks, and without their toughest, funniest member, T-Boz and Chilli had to reinvent themselves. Working mostly with the same stable of producers they’d used on TLC Tip -- Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, most notably -- T-Boz and Chilli got down on some sultry bedroom jams, scoring big with “Creep,” “Diggin’ on You,” and “Red Light Special.”

It’s mostly via the intro and interlude tracks (there are five of ‘em, this being a ‘90s album and all) that TLC puts forth the album’s loose concept: To some extent, all women are crazy, sexy, and cool. It’s just a question of how those elements balance out at any given moment. With CrazySexyCool, TLC got the ratio just right, and even though the follow-up, 1999’s FanMail, became the group’s first and only No. 1 album, this is the one people come back to.

Read on to get our track-by-track take on this mighty fine specimen of ‘90s R&B.

“Intro-Lude”: The first voice heard on CrazySexyCool belongs to Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest, and in an easy 1:03, the “five-foot freak” gets the party started, name-checking Left Eye, Chili and T-Boz, in that title-appropriate order.

“CrazySexyCool-Interlude”: In the first of four such segues, T-Boz tells men everywhere what kind of woman they should be looking for: She’s funny, freaky, and game to hang with the boys. Basically, she’s TLC condensed into a single (presumably single-headed) body, and that’s an idea producer and guest chatterer Sean “Puffy” Combs is way into. “Cool,” he says. “Rock on.”

“Let’s Do It Again”: This filler track is in serious need of a Left Eye rap. That might have given it some passion or humor -- something to save it from becoming the nice-enough nuzzling jam that it is.

“If I Was Your Girlfriend”: The production team -- Puffy, Austin and Chucky Thompson -- do a decent job of recreating the funky weirdness of Prince’s original, a standout cut on his funky and weird Sign o’ the Times. T-Boz has the voice to approximate Prince’s warped, feminized vocal, but even so, this is an odd choice for a cover. “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is about a man trying to get closer to a woman by imagining himself as her BFF, and sung from the female perspective, “girlfriend” takes on the more common meaning of love interest. The oddness works, though; mark this the craziest, sexiest, coolest track.

“Sexy-Interlude”: Chili needs Puff to give her a hand with something. There’s lots of low talking and heavy breathing. It’s not going where you think.

“Take Our Time”: While virtually interchangeable with “Let’s Do It Again,” this slow jam gets the edge by virtue of the oh-so-‘90s keyboard line that snakes its way through the background.

“Can I Get a Witness-Interlude”: The final interlude stars Busta Rhymes, who testifies about wanting a lady who’s “ready to rip somebody’s face off for her man.” His ideal woman is sexy, too, and also cool enough to “get down with the crew.” He wants that TLC hybrid being Puff is intrigued by a few tracks earlier.

“Switch”: Who does he think he is, the guy giving T-Boz gruff in this “Mr. Big Stuff”-sampling anti-commitment anthem? She’s made it clear she’s not looking for anything serious, but dude’s all up in her grill, asking who she’s been hanging with and what time she got home. Maybe she ought to put it to him like Left Eye does in her rap: “Just as quick as I get in / I’ll drop ‘em in a minute / like the dollaz / in my pocket, Speedy Gonzalez / couldn’t stop the way I spin it.”

“Sumthin’ Wicked This Way Comes”: Like a muddier, murkier “Waterfalls,” the disc’s closer is message song with no real message. It’s about the generally sorry state of the world, and in his intro verse, a then-unknown A-Town rhymer referred to as “Dre from Outkast” in the liner notes takes on everything from gang violence to Michael Jackson selling out. The future Andre 3000 gets the better of Lopes, who ends the disc with some new-age-y uplift that never takes flight.