New Album Review

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week 9/8

Whitney “The Voice” Houston delivers with new album

Released 8/31/09
4.5/5 stars

When Whitney Houston first burst onto the scene in the mid 80s, she was the pinnacle of musical perfection. Modelesque looks, catchy songs, style, poise, undeniable stage presence and most importantly, a voice with limitless potential. Success surely followed, as Houston eventually sold more than 170 million albums, broke #1 records set by the Beatles and Elvis, earned more than $500 million worldwide at the Box Office, influenced a generation of singers and became the most awarded female artist of all time.

In the seven years since Houston’s last album Just Whitney, the musical landscape has changed a great deal. Record sales are at an all time low, the digital era has become even more dominant and vocal talent is no longer required to have a hit record, auto-tune and nakedness are. Just as the record industry has changed, Houston’s personal life has not gone without its share of transformations as there was the end of a tumultuous marriage to bad-boy Bobby Brown and stints in rehab.

With the release of Houston’s long-awaited “comeback” album, I Look To You, critics and fans alike have asked the question, “is there room for Whitney Houston in this new age?“ The answer is quite simply, yes.

I Look To You begins with the catchy first single “Million Dollar Bill,” produced and written by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beats.  "Million Dollar Bill" is an up-tempo, bass driven track, with a retro-disco vibe and is one of the albums best.

Next is the Danja produced, up-tempo, synth-driven “Nothing But Love.“  Houston shares how she has nothing but love for those who have hurt her in the past, while accepting responsibility for her own actions. Other up-tempos include the club worthy Euro-pop “For the Lovers” and the Leon Russell penned classic, made famous by Donny Hathaway, “A Song For You” which starts out as a piano-driven ballad, but soon turns into an electronic techno-smash.

With I Look To You, Houston sings some of the best mid-tempos of her career including the R.Kelly written, Tricky Stewart produced, “Salute,” “Worth It” and the Johnta Austin penned Stargate produced “Call You Tonight.“ "Salute” is the ultimate brush-off anthem done with class, while “Worth It” is the perfect love song reminiscent of Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You”. The Stargate produced, contemporary “Call You Tonight” has Houston singing to a potential love interest that she doesn’t have to time connect with.  Any of the aforementioned would be viable singles.

Houston, known for her ability to interpret songs, rather than writing, pens two of the albums island-influenced mid-tempo’s, along with R&B singer Akon. The duet “Like I Never Left”, sounds as though it could be directed to the a past lover or the to public in a plea to love her like she never went away. With “I Got You”, Houston talks of love and loyalty and how neither distance nor time can separate loved ones.

Houston is a self-described “balladeer’, so naturally an album from the legendary Icon wouldn’t be complete without a couple of power ballads. With both “I Look To You” and “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,“ Whitney comes from a spiritual place, sharing that when she was lost, it was her faith that brought her through.

Houston covers all bases with an album that will make you want to dance, cry, make love, feel inspired and everything in between. Vocally, the highs may not be as high and the lows are lower, but Houston still delivers and is able to convey each song with the feeling,  power and emotion as only she can. If you are expecting “The Bodyguard” era vocals, you will be disappointed. Whitney’s voice has undergone its share of changes, but is still better than the majority of who you’ll hear on the radio.

Houston and "industry father” executive producer, Clive Davis have managed to blend experience with relevance, in keeping with tradition of the classic Whitney we know and love, while remaining fresh and current. Overall, I Look To You is the perfect blend of ballads, mid-tempos and up-tempos from arguably the greatest female vocalist of all time. Welcome back, Whitney.

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