Review: Whitney Houston – ‘I Look To You’

Published: Sunday 30th Aug 2009 by Sam
Review: Whitney Houston - 'I Look To You'
After a 7 year hiatus, Whitney Houston is back with ‘I Look To You’ – an album billed by mentor Clive Davis as ‘the greatest comeback’. Yet with Houston’s personal hardships – which included stints in drug rehab, a messy divorce and dwindling album sales – being played out so publically, the question on everyone’s lips is ‘does Whitney still have ‘it’?’

If this new record is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.

Important to acknowledge from the onset is the ‘new’ voice Houston, 46, showcases on this 11-track set. Fans and critics expecting to hear the soaring vocal acrobatics Whitney delivered so effortlessly on career definers such as ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘I Have Nothing’ may initially be disappointed upon listening to this. Yet while age and addiction have shaved some of the horsepower off from ‘The Voice’, Whitney has found something else vocally and it works for her, it really works. A raw, gritty, honest vocal, which gives many a nod to the voice we all know and love, pervades this album, making ‘I Look To You’ Whitney’s most personal sounding LP to date.
Ballads such as the Dianne Warren penned / David Foster produced ‘I Didn’t Know My Own Strength’ and the LP’s title track will no doubt appeal to the Whitney traditionalists who favour the grandeur of her slower-paced offerings. Both songs, which feature inspirational lyrics along with the cliché big key-change, are ‘classic Whitney’, however when matched up against today’s biggest hits, they arguably sound a little dated, acutely cheesy and not feasibly chartable. A double edged sword, of sorts.

Whitney’s Dance remake of Leon Russell’s ‘A Song For You’ seems a little misplaced too.

The abovementioned are in the minority, however, with the album as a body of work seeming to have been crafted with the Top-40 in mind. Somewhat surprisingly then, while at the same time not so much, is the discovery that the album’s mid-and club-destined up-tempo’s are where its main strengths lie. The pulsating Danja produced ‘Nothin’ But Love’, in which Whitney declares she has “nothin’ but love” for her both her supporters and detractors, is a particular standout (although the annunciation from the background singers during the chorus is borderline awful – “nunh-bah-lah”).

Hit after hit characterises the album from the mid-section onwards, with Akon’s two contributions to the record shockingly working significantly better than we would have ever anticipated. The island inspired ‘Like I Never Left’, on which the Senegalese star serves as both the producer and feature artist, sees him and Whitney trade verses about the rekindling of a relationship after being gone for a while. A song which, perhaps intentionally, is readily applicable to Whitney’s comeback (“I want you to love me like I never left”). The new mastered version of this song, which has been floating around for the better part of a year, features all new vocals from the diva, who laces the track with her trademark ‘isms’, adlibs and high notes – particularly towards the end. A great summer, bump-in-the-car offering. Elsewhere, the haunting ‘I Got You’, which sounds very much in the vein of what Houston served up on her ‘My Love Is Your Love’ LP, is a smash in waiting. Perhaps most interesting to note; it is on the Akon tracks that we see Houston credited as a writer – writing being something the singer next to never dabbles with.

While some tracks work moderately well such as the Stargate produced ‘Calling You Tonight’ (which is saved from sounding like just another Stargate/Ne-Yo cut by Whitney’s rich vocals), as well as the R. Kelly penned ‘Salute’, and the grower of a lead single ‘Million Dollar Bill’, it is dually ‘Worth It’ and ‘For The Lovers’ which serve as the album’s hands-down best offerings.

Encapsulating the best aspects of Mariah’s ‘We Belong Together’ and Mary J Blige’s ‘Be Without You’, Whitney serves up a triple A ballad that ‘knocks’ in ‘Worth It’, a track which itself sits effortless besides the aforementioned modern classics. Meanwhile, ‘For The Lovers’, which I submit is Whitney’s best song in recent years, is a delicious slice of 80’s Synth-Pop, with a heavy sprinkling of contemporary Urban edge. A sure-fire chart topper, if released as a single (which it needs to be), ‘’Lovers’ is Houston’s 00’s answer to her classic uptempo’s ‘How Will I Know’ and ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. Ridiculously infectious, you’ll be singing the hook to this one by the time the song ends. Amazing.

With ‘I Look To You’, Whitney Houston serves up a classy, contemporary and chartable album, one that is every part the comeback it is being hyped to be. With a feel-good undercurrent running throughout the record, the LP is notably refreshing in that it oft ‘talks’ directly to the listener without being ‘preachy’ or political – something which tends to sink many, usually good, albums – (“ladies tell your man you love him” – ‘For The Lovers’ // “this is for the lovers about 20 years deep, this is for you” – ‘Worth It’). More so than anything, with this record, Whitney has re-affirmed her relevance in the current musical climate, ensuring that we are singing to both her old hits as well as the new. Welcome back Whitney!

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