Monday, 24 August 2009

Like She Never Left

On August 28th, Whitney Houston's latest album, 'I Look to You', will be released (in Germany and Italy; in other markets, it will be released subsequently).  It's her first album in almost seven years.  It's been so long that I, along with countless other fans around the world, feared that the woman who sang some of the most glorious pop and r&b songs of the 1980s and 90s might have had the life force knocked out of her after a long and publicly tumultuous marriage to r&b bad boy, Bobby Brown.  No doubt, it's tempting to call 'I Look to You' Ms. Houston's comeback album, except that you would stand to be corrected by the diva herself:

'Don't call it a comeback, I been here for years
Through all the drama and the pain, and all the tears'.

It's also tempting to speculate about the significance of the placement of the song from which the above line was taken, 'Salute', coming in as the closing number of the most anticipated album of the year.  A kiss-off song to a man who did her wrong, it is reminiscent of one of her past hits, 'I Learned from the Best'.  However, all the other songs on the album revolve around the central theme of love; different types of love, appreciating the love of someone else ('Worth It', 'I Got You', the title track) and more importantly, loving oneself ('I Didn't Know My Own Strength') and loving life ('Nothin' But Love').

Is there room in the world of popular music for a singer who rose to prominence almost a quarter of a century ago (her first number 1 single, 'Saving All My Love for You', came out in 1985)?  Not only is there room for Whitney but pop music fans need her more than ever. Whitney Houston will resume her place in the pop hierarchy by remaining true to herself and to her extraordinary talent, not by succumbing to current trends and sounds.  She evades the need to recruit the rapper du jour for cameos (her only vocal collaboration is with Akon in the soulful mid-tempo number, 'Like I Never Left') or to use Auto-Tune to the point where a human voice loses its humanity. No, with a voice as magnificent as Whitney Houston's, there's no need for such gimmicks.  

That is not to say that Ms. Houston doesn't let loose...far from it. While the ballads present on the album are elegant and most definitely 'classic Whitney Houston', it's in the faster-paced tracks where we are reminded of the girlish joie de vivre that she used to charm the world twenty-five years ago.  'Million Dollar Bill', produced by Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys, contemporary hitmakers who probably owe a great debt to Houston's trailblazing success, is a slice of summer lovin' that lifts your spirits everytime you hear Houston's 'Oh oh, oh oh oh's.  'For the Lovers' is a funky club jam that sets the mood for a Friday night party.  Even her surprising cover of Leon Russell's classic ballad, 'A Song for You' gets reworked into an entrancing house number.    

The world of pop music is a fickle place. Today's divas are tomorrow's has-beens. However, what the public loves to see more than a diva falling off her pedestal is a fallen diva who rises up again and with 'I Look to You', Whitney Houston, the singing superstar, rises to the occasion and straight to the top, where she belongs.

'I Look to You' is released in the US on August 31st and in the UK on October 19th.

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