« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

Album Review: Whitney Houston's 'I Look to You'

The classic voice isn't there anymore -- how could it be? -- but the album is an effective set.

WHITNEY_EPA_6_  

Certain voices stand like monuments upon the landscape of 20th century pop, defining the architecture of their times, sheltering the dreams of millions and inspiring the climbing careers of countless imitators. Whitney Houston owns one of those voices.

When she was at her best, nothing could match her huge, clean, cool mezzo-soprano -- not Madonna's canny chirp, not Bono's stone church wail nor Bruce Springsteen's ramshackle growl. No, it was Houston who best embodied the feminine but gym-toned, black-inspired but aspirationally post-racial sound of global crossover pop. Like a Trump skyscraper, Houston the singer was as showily dominant as corporate capitalism itself.

Then, like many a glorious edifice, Houston's voice fell into disrepair. Drug abuse and a rocky marriage to New Jack jerk Bobby Brown made her a tabloid staple. More tragically (for listeners, at least), her excesses trashed her instrument, which age and normal wear and tear would have imperiled anyway.

The pain and, frankly, disgust that so many pop fans felt during Houston's decline was caused not so much by her personal distress as by her seemingly careless treatment of the national treasure that happened to reside within her.

"I Look to You," the singer's comeback after nearly a decade of ignominy, is a costly renovation overseen by her mentor, Clive Davis, and enacted by the best craftspeople money can buy, including the producers Akon, Stargate and Nate "Danja" Hills and the songwriters Diane Warren and Alicia Keys. It's not unsuccessful: This is a habitable set of songs. But there's a limit to what Houston can accomplish, and operating within limits becomes the album's overriding theme.

This happens beneath the music's surface, which balances inspirational balladry with bubblicious club pop, as Houston's music always has done. Houston's songwriters and producers provide her with top-notch tools; she wields them cautiously and almost humbly, never falling because she never reaches too high.

The best giant ballad is the Warren-penned, David Foster-produced "I Didn't Know My Own Strength," an exhibition of battle scars that's richer for the weary, injury-protecting quality of Houston's vocal. If she does earn the Grammy she's virtually been promised for a song from this set, it should be for this one.

R. Kelly's contributions -- the megachurchy title track and "Salute," a sort of rewrite of Rihanna's "Take a Bow" -- are less convincing, mostly because Houston can't muster the giant ego that's made similar songs golden for Kells himself.

On most of the album, platinum beats overshadow any vocal pyrotechnics, and Houston interacts with her backing tracks with the muscle memory of a dance-floor veteran. It's rewarding when she really settles into her rougher midlife tone, especially on the Danja-produced "Nothin' But Love," perhaps the most pugnacious thank-you note ever recorded.

When she aims for sweet, as in the hooky "Worth It," or spirited, as on the disco-fab climax of the Leon Russell cover "A Song for You," she gets there with effort.

But should we begrudge the fact that Whitney Houston now has to work at singing? It's all to her credit. What's hard to give up is the dream of painless perfection that the young Houston represented, back in the yuppie era, when her voice sounded like the easy money that was flowing everywhere. Of course, that didn't turn out so well for anyone else, either.

Though "I Look to You" doesn't soar like the old days, it's fine to hear Houston working on her own recovery plan.

--Ann Powers

Whitney Houston
"I Look to You"
Arista
Three stars

 
Comments () | Archives (87)

Thank you Ms. Powers for your honest review. We disagree in areas: 1) I think more credit should be given to Whitney's mid-range richness in this album and 2) I think more credit should be given not to the fact that "it" producers populate the credits, but that their songs are really well-crafted and fitting. I agree that "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" by Diane Warren is incredibly fitting, effective, and sung monumentally by the voice Whitney has now. Love that one.

Thank you again for YOUR contributions to music criticism and commentary over the years.

Thank you for an honest review. I love Whitney. And I love this album. But you capture perfectly what we treasured about the young Whitney and what we now have. She is still awesome precisely because she is so human. Like all the rest of us yuppies.

"I Look to You" is an incredibly poor and dull album...
The ballads are dated, the collaborations lack inspiration and maturity...
I mean this woman went through hell (and might still be) and she's got nothing to say/write/share about it...
This review is as poor as the album itself as Ann Powers tries to gently hide her disappointment while destroying artists who at least work at reinventing themselves while Whitney Houston simply couldn't

I love Whitney Houston and I think this honest review represents what most of us are thinking but none have said, her voice has declined quite a bit, however she's still one of the best singers out there. I'd compare her vocal ability to Alicia Keys now instead of considering her to be the greatest female vocalist in the world. Regardless I think it's a solid set of songs and really like the album. It's much better then the forgettable stuff Mariah has been putting out recently. I just hope in time Whitney might be able to improve a little more when she's performing live.

THE THIS VOICE THERE, BEYOND THAT AS THE WRITER DEL I ARTICULATE WANTS TO MAKE US SEEM, THAT WE LISTEN TO WHITNEY FROM THE BEGINNING OF HIS(HER,YOUR) CAREER(RACE) WE ARE VERY SATISFIED WITH HIS(HER,YOUR) RETURN, FOR OBVIOUS REASONS THE VOICE GIVES LONG AGO NOT THIS ONE THERE, TO CLAIM THAT IT IS SUNG EQUALLY A TWENTIES THAT TO THE FORTY FIVE IT(HE) IS RIDICULOUS, ALONE THIS I KNOW THEY ASK WHITNEY FOR IT, AHUN WITH THE DIMINISHED VOICE SINGS BETTER THAN BEYONCE AND ALL THE NEW GIRLS THAT SURELY ALAGA THE CRITIC OF THIS ARTICLE. BADLY THAT HIM(HER) IN SPITE OF AND TO MANY WHITNEY TO TURNED...
Lisandro desde Argentina Forgive for the English evil

LIKE SMOKEY ROBINSON, WHITNEY HOUSTON IS NOT DISTURBED BY THE DATED BUG THAT HAPPENS TO ALL AT SOME POINT, SHE IS SO ASSURED OF HER PLACE IN CHURCH CHOIRS WHERE SHE STARTED OUT, THAT GETTING THE PUSHOVER BY FANS WON'T DISTURB HER MUCH. BEHIND, DIANA ROSS AND BARBRA STRIESAND, SHE IS STILL #THREE ON MYLIST OF FEMALE LARKS.

Whitnery Houston is legend. There is no singer who has the same voice quality that they had when they were in their primes. What truly amazes me is the fact that you all just can not accept the fact that soul is just what it is. when Miss Houston was a "mezzo soprano", she had soul. Today she has the same soul. Its what we call an inate talent that has been marked by the holy spirit. Haters beware!!! See you at the grammys!!!

While the album does feature good songs, Whitney better watch out for when Mariah Carey comes back on Sept. 29. Mariah is going to be delivering power ballads throughout the whole album and is going to release her cover of Foreigner's I Want To Know What Love Is. Critics praised MC's version saying that it is a gospel sounding powerhouse filled with strong vocals and is very similar to Vision Of Love. Since Vision Of Love was a powerful track, then I Want To Know What Love Is will be a force to reckon with this September.
Folllow me on twitter at twitter.com/amarj1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm with you girl.

Most of haven't even heard the album. This is music - being listened to and analyzed. You haven't heard any better record so far this year. Whitney will rule!

She was a great singer but her lifestyle revenged on her voice and that is a pitty.But the otherday when Mariah Cary sung at the Michael Jackson remembrance i found her voice sounding pretty weak just like she could not reach any of the higher notes.The guy she sung with sounded much better!On the otherhand there are singers in this world that time seems to do no harm to there voices.I was surprised by the beautifull voice of Jermaine Jackson when he sung in honor of Michael. Martin.- The Netherlands.

I have just check out Ann Powers and she's looks a hot mess so I wouldn't be bothered about her take on Whitney's new album1 If any of these people can sing out sing Whitney then why haven't u sold more than she has? Whitney is walking her path and singing for her fans, haters u know what to do! Probably eat crow! Whitney is the best singer ever! I won't be buying that remake dud of a song by Foreigner to listen to dog howling notes! Whitney is a true singer who still looks amazing at 46. Balck don't crack!

I'm not surprised to hear this. its especially hard for a performer like Houston whose always been an instrument of artists and not an artist unto her own. I love her old albums but there was a lot of "production" to make the voice that big. Its a rude awakening to find out one of the most amazing singers ever is not an artist at all. Without inspiration no art endures. What i'm saying is she's never had anything to cling to at the center of her that made her NEED to perfect and passionately loved her gift and her craft. All the hard work isn't worth it without that passion! Basically she is a empty remnant of the 80's and I’ll be right up there with the gays and the club remix pretending its cool.

I would truly have to disagree with the writer of his/her review of Whitney's new album; "I Look To You". This album is really great and she isn't trying to sound as if she's a twenty year old. The album is truly emotional and honest! She sounds really awesome and not filled with the outlandish screaming that some of these "so-called" divas do today! Yes, it's apparent she is not the top-vocalist as she was in her day, yet, she still sounds better than most of these "yung-on's". I love the underdog, which some of these reviewers/journalists are really trying to convey to the music-buying public! "Misery breeds discontent"!

I love this album and I'm going to buy it. And as for her road to recovery, I'll be there every step of the way.

This is a very honest and well-written review. Thanks.

I always liked Miss Houston despite she always recorded ''one kind of music '' and her buyers dont have extreemly sophisticated music ear !That said she always thought she had an amazing voice , but what has happend to this last album ? Music was taken from Candi Staton album circa 1978 ? Old disco sounds do not really work here , you have to forward some tracks cause they get ''tired'' within seconds .This will sell for sure to all the gay clubs and fans of whitney , but will anybody eles buy it ? Its doubtful !!! where is the voice we so much admired , the lows are good for 2-3 tracks .This is not a comeback album -Sorry but music has progressed since 1990's .this dosen't sound fresh at all

I'm just happy to see her back. We all go through trials and tribulations. Mrs. Houston is only human, like all of us. Her music has always touched my heart, and I'm ready for some new songs.... Love ya! from Louisiana

I totally don't understand how someone can say that Whitney isn't an artist on her own. She didn't produce or write most of her songs, but she had her voice so PERFECTLY controlled and is so soulfull that no one can deny her artistic value. And speaking of passion -check Youtube and check out a few of her old performances! She's not a simple instrument of artists, she IS the main artist! Producers and songwriters wanted to work with her because she manages the one thing she's good at to a matchless level! And I think that that in it self, and her inspirational & beautifull renditions show she knows what she's doing. People that try to degrade Whitney to any lower status simply don't understand music, and what it takes to OWN your voice and songs the way she did -and still does even now!

What most of you fail to realize is: Whitney's voice was SO immaculate in the days of old that even though her vocal acrobatics have faltered, she STILL sounds better than 99.9% of the singers topping the charts today. The album is a SMASH!!! She stayed true to herself while incorporating many of todays trends. And she did it well. I give the album 4 out 5. That's MY review.

Whitney's BEST vocal will always be her "I'm Your Baby Tonight" album. From START to FINISH her vocal prowess is merely PERFECTION on that record!!!

Thank you for that very honest review. Whitney Houston's critical and commercial success was the result of the tireless struggle and sacrifice of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 50's, 60's, and 70's. She was the just reward of the struggle--afterall she was groomed, crafted, and polished to become the ultimate Black American Female Singer, and rightfully so. She was and in my opinion, is the heir to Aretha Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul. But what made Whitney so different from Aretha was her ability to transcend race and cultures and her effortless beauty. I'm glad that Whitney Houston is back and I feel she deserves all the praise she has received. I love all of the songs on the new album. We must remember though, she is older, and when you think about it, when God brings you out of your storm, your trials and tribulations, you are not supposed to look the same, sound the same, feel the same, act the same, or think the same. I feel that Whitney deserves any nomination or win she receives.

I love Whitney Houston she is a beautiful human being she is strong and knows how to deliver a special feeling throughout her singing carreer as far back as I Wanna Dance With Somebody!All I know that she is much better off now than she was when she was married to her ex-husband Mr.Bobby Brown. I think
being next to her lovely mother Miss Sissy Houston.It will show the world that it all starts with the parents and how much they have an impact on your life & your future! Especially in the Music Industry world!! Good Luck & God Bless You, Miss Nina Ruiz/ 86 Edgar Street Apt B Carteret,New Jersey 07008

I think this is about the fairest review I've seen in regard to Whitney Houston, thus far. It's the truth, Whitney Houston raised the standard for singing, because it was nothing for her to belt a note. Now, she doesn't have that perfect control and voice as she once had; however, I do believe that her voice will get better once she locks in at her concerts etc. I'm just glad that she's back and we will see what will happen with the success of the album.

Least we forget, Whitney is human..I wonder how many could endure the daily critism she has to face. We all know she screwed up by her unhealthy choices, however, I am certain she is also painfully aware of them too! Would any of us like to be reminded publicly of our past mistakes? I think not! She seems to have pulled herself up from this dark place in her life, with the help of God and supportive friends & family. I for one, am proud to see her doing what she has done for decades , giving us her all..

When I first heard, "I Look To You" on the radio, I nearly cried because I couldn't believe how much Whitney's voice had changed. I often view her 'Welcome Home Heroes' concert on dvd because she was Every woman when she hit that stage in 1991. It was her first-ever solo televised concert, honoring the military men and women returning from the Gulf War, and she brought the house down when she opened the show by singing "The Star Spangled Banner," then dazzled everyone with "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," "I'm Your Baby Tonight," then mesmerized the entire audience when she sang "A House Is Not A Home," and "All the Man That I Need." That vision of Whitney in 1991, with that perfectly pitched, melodic voice, will stay with me forever. It is so sad to know that she'll never sing that way again.

 
1 2 3 4 | »

Advertisement
Connect

Recommended on Facebook



In Case You Missed It...

Video



Recent Posts


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.

Categories


Archives
 



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: