Album review: Whitney Houston - I look to you

Album review: Whitney Houston - I look to you
I look to you is Whitney's 'Rainbow after the crack marriage storm' album, and it's a conflicting album. Because on one hand you feel really glad that Whitney's back. But on the other, you're almost disappointed by how the voice that you remember doesn't quit sound how it used to. And that the songs are good, but never amazing.

Something that has been in question is if Whitney still has THE voice. And the short answer to that is: Yes. Is it as strong as it was before? Nope. Not by a long shot. Whitney can still flutter some of the highs and do some runs. But she's not a patch on how she was before. For Whitney to give us a glimpse that she still has 'IT' takes more effort than it used to, and you can hear it. The almost painful rasp in the voice, going for the lower notes when old skool Whitney would've reached for the highs, just holding long notes and not putting classic Whitney riffs and spins on them. It's to be expected. But you can't help but think "Damn...Whitney ain't got it how she used to!" and it's a shame. As Whitney's voice back in the day was amazing. And it's only when you listen to her new material and then listen to her older stuff that you realize just how amazing it was.

Whilst Whitney is known for her ballads, these are the weakest links on the album by far. Leaving room for Whitney to string out notes badly and showcase just how bad her voice has gotten. "I look to you" and "I didn't know my own strength" are both cases of nice songs being ruined by Whitney's damn near horrendous vocal performances. If these are Whitney's showcases that she can still sing, then she can go 'head and be gone with it. There is barely any hint of that vocal power house who could once belt and pick and choose her notes as she went along. A real shame. A bigger shame is that the likes of The Forehead (also known as Rihanna) could probably sing these two songs better than Whitney now.

Whitney is in her element when she's riding the groove train, and these are the tracks on which she shines vocally. The Swizz Beatz produced and Alicia Keys penned "Million dollar bill" is love on first listen. I did not know Swizzy had it in him to produce anything this swoony and soulful without straight 808's, hand claps and no melody for the duration of a whole song. A fitting lead single for Whitney. The whole song suits her down to the ground, and her opening belt is proof that whilst she doesn't have the voice she once did, she still has a voice that other chicks in the game can't touch. "Nothin' but love" is absolute crack! If my n***a Clive Davis doesn't green light this as a single, then he's a silly n***a. The song has so much appeal that everybody regardless of age or sex will find something to like about it. This song is reaching out to YOU! I had to take two when I heard Danja had a hand in this. It sounds so different for him: adopting an almost reggae 'n Latin vibe - which may be due to co-producer Fernando Garibray. Both fellas do a great job of having Whitney sound like Whitney, yet also contemporary without selling her shit out. Great song. Danja hits the jackpot again with "For the lovers", which is distinctly Danja with all the synth work and is much more club heavy. But the production doesn't leave Whitney out of her depth as you#d expect it to based on any synopsis you read of the song. Whitney? Danja!? Club heavy!!? Synths!? Say it ain't so!! Despite being very much on trend, it has an old skool Whitney feel about it: with the club darkness of "My name is not Susan" and "Love will save the day". Again: single worthy. Whitney messes up with "A song for you" though. It's one of Whitney's worst covers and the terrible badly produced gay club dance vibe the song has is just plain awful. Whitney's vocals also sound really dry. A song like this needed those diva swagger and big notes every which way. But Whitney never really takes off and as a result, the song just plays into garbage and mediocrity for four minutes.

Whitney slows and strips it down for a couple of the albums tracks. And the mid-tempo highlight for me has to be "Call you tonight". Purely because it's the one song on the album where Whitney is on vocal form from start to finish. The instrumentations are kept to a minimum, and the backing vocals are eased up on considerably to truly allow Whitney to shine. Chick sings this shit like she never did crack and sucked Bobby Brown's dick for a decade. Stargate just have a knack for making the veteran ladies shine on their new shit. Janet on "2nite", Mariah on "I'm that chick" and now Whitney on "Call you tonight". Hotness. This would make a hot single. "Like I never left" is way better than it should be. It pains me to admit it, but 'The prince of Darkness' that is Akon came over correct with the song. The production and the lyrics just hit all the right notes. And Akon surprisingly sounds really good alongside Whitney. The song is a cool one because it's lyrics can be taken in different ways: a song beckoning to a lover? Or a plea to fans to love Whitney like she never left the game? It's our call. Whitney's vocals flourish towards the end of the song when she hits a couple of her trademark high notes, ad-libs and sounds sexy as she does so. Yet again. Whitney has another single worthy song.

I look to you isn't the explosive comeback album that perhaps many were expecting. Whitney just being Whitney and being back on life form is what will open fans hearts into liking this album more than the music itself. Not that the music is bad. But you are left with a 'barely satisfied' feeling when the final track has come to a close. As seems to be the new trend for today's pop acts who release an album at the other side of the drama: the drama is not spoken of what-so-ever. Whitney is all up for telling us how she made it through some shit, but doesn't speak on the shit itself. I personally wouldn't have wanted to have heard 11 tracks of Whitney singing on how bad her marriage was and what a no good n***a Bobby Brown was. And I'm betting any songwriters that did submit tracks that even hinted at Whitney's drama were shunned by Clive Davis. After all, we know enough already. She put her business on blast to Oprah for an hour. But it would've been nice to have had a song that wasn't so wishy washy and ambiguous. Just a hint of drama and magnitude would've made this album bigger.

The lack of explosiveness with this album is what makes it a double edged sword. The album staying away from a lot of today's musical trends and keeping Whitney sounding like Whitney is what makes it work. But the lack of impact is what causes you to overlook songs, skip tracks and not really feel one way or the other when the final track comes to an end. This being Whitney's 'come back' album is the only thing it'll really be memorable for. Because as good as some of the songs are, they aren't pieces that will stand the test of time in the long run. Only "Million dollar bill" could potentially do so.

With all this said, it's definitely good to have Whitney back again. The voice isn't as great as it used to be, but it's more than good enough; and the same goes for the music.

Album highlights:
■ Million dollar bill
■ Nothin' but love J's fave
■ Call you tonight
■ Like I never left
■ For the lovers
■ Salute

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