I was 13 when this came out but I was already sort of aware of manufactured pop music. I already sort of got that the Monkees hadn’t evolved like the other bands I listened to, and I was sort of aware that some of the oldies music I listened wasn’t made the same way. I became much more aware of manufactured music as the decade wore on, as the Spice Girls suddenly were everywhere and then, not that long after, we got the boy bands and we got the wave of female teen pop stars. In the late ’90s it felt like we were drowning in manufactured pop, and this was particularly difficult for teens like me, who were struggling with how to be authentic in a world that felt so inauthentic.
But, through it all, it never occurred to me that TLC were a manufactured pop group. Was it the way they looked? Was it the fact that one of them rapped? Was it because I just really didn’t pay much attention to hip hop and R&B? Whatever the reason, I thought they were an organic group. Of course, they are not. They are as manufactured as any of the numerous ’90s manufactured groups, so much so that their original leader didn’t survive the process that formed them. Does that matter? As a teen, I would have said “absolutely”. As an adult, I’m pretty sure I don’t care anywhere near as much.
It should come as no surprise that the strongest song here is the most famous one, and that the singles are mostly stronger than everything else. “Waterfalls” feels basically far superior to everything else here, both in terms of how catchy it is and how (relatively) reflective it is lyrically. Still, as manufactured groups go, the remaining material is decent, and I don’t know that there’s anything here that stands out as being as bad as anything on the other manufactured pop albums I’m familiar with.
And I’d probably go ahead and say this was one of the better records I’ve heard by one of these prefab pop groups, if not for the interludes. If you were to play a drinking game where you drink every time at least two of the words “crazy”, “sexy” and “cool” were used in any combination…well, you would be quite hammered by the end of this record. I get that the title is some statement about these women, and they want to reinforce that, but the interludes in particular take it to ridiculous levels. It gets quite annoying.
On the whole, it’s still one of the better albums I’ve heard by a manufactured group. I could really do without the interludes – as with basically every ’90s R&B record – and I won’t be choosing to listen to it any time soon, but it’s fine for what it is.