ALBUM REVIEW: WHITNEY HOUSTON – I LOOK TO YOU (2009)

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One of the most talked about albums of the year has finally arrived. With rumours circulating for the past few years but no concrete information, many believed we would never see a new Whitney Houston album, however under the wing of long term mentor Clive Davis Whitney came through and gave us I Look To You.

Her comeback had all the ingredients of success. First there is the dramatic back story (the divorce, the drugs), second she looks fantastic, third her fan-base is still relatively strong and remained supportive… but, in my opinion, it all falls down around the fourth key ingredient: the music. There is no doubt this album will be a success, it debuted at #1 in the US and I’m sure it will chart high on it’s UK release, but I have a feeling that this has more to do with fan loyalty and the Whitney hype machine than the contents of the album.

The album isn’t awful, it’s not even ‘bad,’ it’s just that I was expecting great (or even very good) and I’m disappointed. Many have come to her defense saying that we cannot expect the “I Will Always Love You” Whitney after what she has been through, and I agree, but that doesn’t stop me from a) wishing it and b) using it as a comparison. When looked at in the context of 90% of R&B/Pop/Soul currently making it into the charts it probably comes out quite favourably, however when you compare it to music coming out of the ever-growing independent soul/R&B scene it seems a little tired and unimaginative.

Whitney hasn’t exactly been known for producing great albums. Great singles yes, but all her albums seem to suffer from some element of ‘filler.’ What has, in the past, made her so successful is THAT voice. She has consistently been rated as one of the best singers we have and many agree that Whitney could sing anything and make it sound great. Sadly however that once great voice has been somewhat diminished by years of drug and/or alcohol abuse. Of course, she can still sing, and sing well. The issue is that mediocre material plus a sub-par voice (when compared to how she used to sing) gives rise to an album that fails impress as a whole package.

There are some good tracks on I Look To You. Album opener “Million Dollar Bill” sees Whitney take on disco, and to good effect. I think that this will do well upon its release as the second single. Title track “I Look To You” is also solid. This is the first single from the album and sees Whitney in her comfort zone (i.e. the ballad). It is nowhere near as impressive as some of her earlier material but it is nice to hear her voice without too much interference. The rest of the album is a little bland in my opinion, and her cover of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song For You” should never have been recorded, let alone placed on the album. She turns a soul classic into some thumping euro-dance track that will have many soul-fans running for the hills.

It seems that in trying to keep Whitney relevant in todays music scene, the record label, Clive and Whitney herself have jumped on what is fashionable rather than what works for her as an artist. I only hope that she gets a chance to follow this up with an album that will truly do her justice, and give the fans what they are looking for; an album that is 100% Whitney. Clive and the record label need only look at artists such as Ledisi to see that it is possible to have a successful, hit record while staying true to ones self and not sacrificing quality (of the music) for quantity (of sales).

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