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Whitney Houston's 'I Look to You': Instant track-by-track thoughts

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Just in time for Grammy consideration, and a week earlier than expected, Whitney Houston’s comeback effort, “I Look to You,” has made its way to the Web as an official stream. The album will officially be available on Aug. 31.

Times pop music chief Ann Powers will provide a thorough analysis of the effort in the coming days, but Pop & Hiss is getting the conversation started now. Here’s some insta-track-by-track thoughts. All of the thoughts below were written based solely on one listen. Pausing, however, was allowed.

1. “Million Dollar Bill.” This is a refreshing album opener, as it’s right in Houston’s comfort zone. There was the fear that Houston might try to belt one right out of the park from the start, what with Alicia Keys listed as the songwriter, and Swizz Beatz, whose credits include everyone from Beyoncé to Jay-Z, leading the production credits. That’s not the case, as it’s a swift and easy retro R&B cut. In fact, Houston returns with an album opener that feels lifted direct from the '70s. That’s not an accident, as it features a sample of Loleatta Holloway’s mid-'70s cut “We’re Getting Stronger (The Longer We Stay Together).” Here’s a handy-dandy comparison.

2. “Nothin’ But Love.” Houston’s sound gets a little more modernized here, courtesy of Timbaland associate Nathaniel “Danja” Hills. It’s upbeat, and it starts as a tale of survival and strength, with Houston generically referencing “all the things that I’ve been through” in the song’s opening moments, and offering a casual brush-off to the “haters” as the song builds to the chorus. But don’t go looking for personal details, as the song fits in nicely with the '80s synth revival currently on pop radio, and is a love letter to family bonds. A nice touch, though, is the sparse second verse, framing a wiser, raspier-sounding Houston than we’re used to.

3. “Call You Tonight.” We’re settling in here for a relatively mid-tempo, easy-listening R&B pop record. Houston’s voice is framed by what sounds like some heavily produced acoustic strings, and a brief, mournful guitar. It is, however, a nice showcase for her vocal command, letting her notes quiver and trail off ever so slightly.

4. “I Look to You.” We’ve heard and discussed this one before, and it’s not any more impressive on the album. The production is downright cheesy, with sparkling, futuristic effects twinkling in the background throughout the song’s full four-plus minutes. This is an end-credits song.

5. Like I Never Left.” Akon marks his territory, announcing his production hand in the song’s opening moments. He would have been better to keep his mouth shut, as his studio-enhanced vocals laden this comeback tale with clichés. Akon doesn’t really sound the lover, more the Whitney fan, cheerleading her return.

6. “A Song for You.” The classic Leon Russell tune, perhaps best known in its Donny Hathaway cover, and now an “American Idol” audition staple. Give Houston, who has tackled the song before, credit for playing with the arrangement, turning it into an upbeat pop number. But this version isn’t going to bring anyone to tears, and I’m not sure it’s going to bring anyone to the dance floor. It made me miss Houston’s earlier, shout-to-the-rafters rendition.

7. “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength.” Another one we’ve heard before. Over time, this one has grown on me as a powerful statement of survival, while the title track isn’t something I need to hear again. It suffers again from the random electronic skittles in the background, but if Houston is no longer straining her vocals to the max, there’s something very resilient in the way the song builds, and she sounds sturdier here than on any other track.

8. “Worth It.” With “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” building to a show-stopping finale, “Worth It” doesn’t make an effort to maintain the momentum. Instead, we divert back to a hand-clap-laden ditty. Honestly, after the personal take of the last ballad – a should-have-been album closer – this is hitting me as filler.

9. “For the Lovers.” Now it’s becoming more apparent why Arista / RCA teased with the ballads, as when Houston slides into Top-40 mode, the songs are loaded with so much production, they sometimes feel as if they could be sung just as successfully by any number of pop stars. That being said, this is the most forceful dance cut on the record, and it’s got club-hit written all over it. Compared to recent Mariah Carey and Madonna tracks we’ve heard, this is far a more aggressive, groovy and catchy tune.

10. “I Got You.” Akon returns with his second cut on the album, and it’s definitely a more interesting one than “Like I Never Left,” with its finger-picked strings and grand, synthesized orchestra. Houston’s vocals are more brawny than soaring these days, and the song’s brick heavy production is built to withstand them

11. “Salute.” R. Kelly also fares better on his second cut, although the backing singers are on equal ground as Houston here. But it’s a biting, angry send-off for the album, an acerbic wave goodbye to a lover, as well as any doubters. “Don’t call it comeback,” Houston forces out through gritted teeth. “I’ve been here for years – through all the drama and the pain.” While gossip hounds will want to parse the lyrics, the album could have used more of this – it’s a fiery, passionate Houston, and one ready to tackle, confront and conquer her long absence from the pop landscape.

Be sure to stay tuned to Pop & Hiss, as Powers will offer a deeper look at the album, and its place in the Whitney canon, in the coming days.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Associated Press

 
Comments () | Archives (17)

Thanks for the review but no offence, it's a bit lame. It reads like any random no-name blogger out there. I've come to expect more from the Times! But thanks for the heads up that the album is available online.

I rarely trust some of the reviewers these days. So many of them are so entrenched in popular trends that when something FRESH comes out they reject it. This CD is solid. I know that these are the reviewer's opinions, but it seems a bit tepid. The songs, arrangements, and Whitney''s voice are on point! This CD is current, without being trendy. Youthful, without making Whitney embarrass herself. And, of course, the voice is there, getting stronger with each track. This is a great comeback. Let the records show in the upcoming weeks. This will be Whitney's world again in popular music over the next year.

nice album in general, but like i said in my facebook review, as much as she has lost as an artist due to her personal life, this is a safe come back, as much as i still wanted more and think she could have done better. im happy with this for now. im expecting a much bigger and better album next time hopefully soon. As she has now hopefully got into the groove of things.

I don't think albums should be reviewed by one listen. I have listened to this album many times in the past 24 hours and each listen gets better and better. I look to you is gorgeous and classic Whitney! Music is subjective for all who hear it. Old news, that. But this is an amazing comeback. She can still sing! It's just a little different. But I am one happy homo hearing most of these tunes. And I love her shout out to the singles in For All The Lovers. That said.... Still not sure why she or her label streamed the album today, but a friend sent me a download of it and I got the goods for free. But feel not guilt cause I've bought her records, tapes, cd's and then bought them again on Itunes so free Whitney is OK for now. I paid for her divorce to Bobby Brown. My gift to her. But honestly: Anyone reading: Check this out. This woman is a LEGEND!

Whitney's new effort is remarkable! We've seen her public fall, and this is a triumphant return. Loving the new music!

Love Whitney!


I have listened to I Look To You and I like it.

Lets face it Whitney sings with her heart out not with her checkbook. Unlike Mariah (who makes music just to manipulate the Billboard) this album proves she's still the Voice)

Even though her voice is bit huskier these days, it still powerful, crystal clear and emotions run high in this album.

I am so looking forward for this album and she still GOT IT. Welcome back!

4* out of 5

I LOVE the album. Best album of the year (followed by Battlefield by Jordin Sparks and Exposed by Kristinia DeBarge).

Highlights: Million Dollar Bill and Nothin' But Love.

Songs I like least: For The Lovers and I Got You.

Love all the other songs! Praise to Whitney!

Whitney again shows why she's the best vocalist ever! She soars and brings it home on this album. Her voice remains stronger on each listen and now we all know what Clive has been saying all these years, Whitney is the best singer on planet earth 2day! Like she sings, she aint singing to the haters, go figure! Love u Whitney, very much!

Was this supposed to be a review? Sorry Mr Reviewer. This is an excellent cd but to each his own. I would however expect a reviewer to have a little more depth in his or her review. I Look To You is a beautiful ballad. One thing I've learned with many critics is that you are damned if you do and damned if you don't.


This is what I call a................................... DIVA !!!

Her voice has changed and her songs are stuck in the eighties. Whitney is the greatest singer of our time, let's hope the next album proves that. I would give this album a miss.

Her voice is gone and the songs sound bland. I support her but this is not a comeback material. I'm very disappointed with her current voice.

Wonderful woman Whitney, you had it all. How I loved your voice then.
Your music will always be part of my history.

You stoppede singing and lived a life away from the tumbling scene. We now know your life has been rough.

Some turns were wrong, some right, the best, and those most hurtful, were surely all based on that ’love thing’. I can only say, ditto regarding my own turns.

So I will never judge you. I will only listen to your tender voice and all the songs you hopefully are going to sing from now on, and I will enjoy.

Years have gone by, you have lived them days, and your voice too.

Your voice is much more deeper now, yeh you too are getting older, but oh it is so much more sensitive now, if it ever could be, and… 'l look to you' ..says it all. That’s a real WOman now. This is Whitney-expression of a song... now I can here life, now I can feel life.

Great you came back Whitney, so missed!

Love MI

I boughtmy copy yesturday and I have listened to the entire album at least 7 times.
The album is nice!

Worth it is definitely one of my best songs on the album (and that is a shock to me)!
My baby is back!
My only complaint is that I expected more ballads on the album.
Hopefully she records another album in the very near future that has more ballads on it.

WOW, it must say it feels good to have WHITNEY back. Yes, here vocals are slightly diffrent, but who cares, we know WHINTEY first effort after all she been through is very listenable and enjoyable, I cant stop playing million dollar bill.

During the 80's Whitney, Anita and Janet were the three hotest sisters ,even landing a ebony covers, todays talent, if you wanna call it that or boody shaking selling sex divas, need to sit down. I am tired of the sex driven images going to the top of the charts.

Earlier someone said that WHITNEY is stuck in the Eighties, no we welcome the retro sound back and you tired of the so called music that you hear on the radio, with the over sex driven videoes, the low cut clothing , the pumping and grinding, no real dancing, stuff you see in the go go club and some even get grammys for that.

Before the granmmys meant somtheing how do an artist like beyonce get 10 grammys meanwhile whitney has 6 and sold over 150 million copies, let's take back our music and bring back the real artist, not hating on beyonce she has some talent but overated.

Welcome back WHitney. the greatest voice of our time

I'm loving Whitney on this one . Yes she's no longer the high pitched teeny bopper she was but she is definitely doing her thing. I love "I Look To You", "Salute" and I Didn't Know My Own Strength" the most. The next release should be "Salute". I believe she will get her footing back and her voice up to the standards we all came to love, but i enjoy the rich mature sound she has. We need to give her a chance and support her through these time.

I don't call this a come-back, just a do over.


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