CD Review: Whitney Houston "I Look To You"
(ArjanWrites.com guest contributor Will W. had a chance to preview Whitney's much-anticipated comeback album. Read on to find out what his thoughts are about this new effort.)
Although many of us had our doubts, she pulled through and made it happen. Whitney Houston indisputably is one of the best selling female vocalists of our time having sold 150 million albums to date. This feat places her behind Barbara Streisand, Madonna and Mariah Carey. As opposed to some others in the diva elite, quality control always has been very stringent in Houston’s career under the guidance of mogul Clive Davis. Alright, we can toss her 2002 effort “Just Whitney” perhaps. Every girl has a bad day, but only a true diva can rebound and win the hearts of the public once again. Many will be surprised that "I Look To You" is Houston's sixth studio album only in an illustrious career that dates back to her 1985 debut.
Does Houston truly deliver though? Well, upon giving the highly touted comeback album a go, it's clear that the distinctive timbre and powerful upper range Houston's in "billion dollar voice" (citing press releases from Sony/BMG) are not quite what they used to be. There are no big, belted sustained notes that we have came to expect of Houston circa "The Bodyguard O.S.T." era. But then again, vocal paradigms have shifted and really, full-on belting just does not guarantee airplay anymore (calling Mariah Carey).
Although "I Look To You" is very much about Houston’s vocals, it also places a strong focus on rhythm and production, much in the same vein as 1998's "My Love is Your Love". This album is mature and age-appropriate, without straining to sound fresh. Radio is already responding to lead single "Million Dollar Bill" written by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz. Many of us were unaware that the track is based on an interpolation of Lolleatta Holloway's track "We’re Getting Stronger". It is a fitting comeback single celebrating love and feeling good versus dwelling on the many struggles Houston has endured over the past decade which can be summarized in three Ds: Drugs, Divorce and Decline.
Stargate-produced "Call You Tonight" is a pretty cousin to Ne-Yo's smash hit "Because of You"; it is very much in line with what Top 40 listeners want to hear right now and very certain to be a forthcoming single. The album's title track, written by R. Kelly, is heartfelt and tear-inducing – a mandatory requirement for any Whitney Houston album. The far too often covered "A Song For You" was recorded very late into production according to Clive Davis, but Houston's take on it is a big tempo-switching dance-a-thon which cannot be heard on previous efforts from Christina Aguilera, Michael Bublé or The Carpenters. Catchy "For The Lovers" is produced by the talented Danja (Britney Spears’ “Gimme More”). "Like I Never Left" (ft. Akon) is breezy reggae-lite, best described as an updated version of Gregory Abbott's 1986 hit “Shake You Down."
It is also reassuring to know that Dianne Warren/David Foster production "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" was re-worked after drawing much critique from its leaked version earlier this summer. The arrangement on this version is fuller and it appears that some vocals were re-done. The album’s closing number “Salute”, is a second R. Kelly contribution asserting that Houston is defiant and resilient. Indeed, Team Whitney is cutting no corners in making this a real comeback.
Sony/BMG releases notoriously are offered in Standard/Deluxe Edition formats for their blockbuster artists and surprisingly, not much has been said about a dual disc edition with a bonus DVD. Perhaps that would have been a treat for fans which was overlooked as many would be curious to learn about the making of this album. “I Look To You” is in stores August 31, 2009 just in-time for the Grammy nominations deadline. To hear clips from the album, visit Whitney Houston’s official website at http://www.whitneyhouston.com.