Monday, August 31, 2009

Oh, Whitney: It's not bad, but far from great

It's hard to come back from what Whitney Houston went through. But let's set the record straight: this was not the comeback of the century. Far from it.

Her legacy as one of the greatest singers of all-time has been tarnished by drug use and a disastrous marriage to R&B 'bad boy' Bobby Brown. I applaud Whitney for apparently putting the drugs down, divorcing Brown and trying to make an album that we can all appreciate. An all-star cast of producers and writers were the only thing that kept this album from being an absolute train wreck.

Today, Houston released her first studio album in seven years. It's not bad, but it's far from great. Her notes are not as crisp or clean, in fact sometimes she seems to rush her lyrics making them hard to understand. She doesn't take any risks by belting notes that made her a Grammy Award-winning singer. It's hard to listen to the 'I Look To You' album without thinking about her past powerhouse vocal performances on songs like "I Will Always Love You," "Greatest Love of All" and "I Have Nothing."

I grew up listening to Houston, not too far from her hometown of Newark, N.J. I went to her "I'm Your Baby Tonight" concert at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. But this album doesn't not reflect the artist that Houston was. No one should expect 'old Whitney.' That artist is dead and gone. Will she win any awards for this album? Highly unlikely. Will the album go platinum? Pretty likely. People are going to buy it because, well, it's Whitney. Duh!

"Million Dollar Bill," written by Alicia Keys and produced by Keys/Swizz Beatz, and "I Look To You," penned by R. Kelly, are the high spots of the album. The songs could have been truly great if they were performed by Whitney in her prime. Again, the theme of 'not bad, but far from great' comes in.

In fairness, "Million Dollar Bill" is the closest thing to a 'party-starter' on the whole album. It has definite two-step potential and will probably be blasting from some Labor Day cookouts. It's starting to get some good radio play. The icing on the cake would be a good dance routine to really put the song over. A good video certainly wouldn't hurt. I like the track. I can't front. You probably will, too.

"I Look To You" has Whitney written all over it. It's the heroic ballad that she would have nailed and sent it straight to the the top of the charts. But that's not the case here, unfortunately. Good effort, nonetheless.

Hip-hop artist Akon also produced tracks on the album and joined Whitney on "Like I Never Left." The odd appearance is the only guest spot on the album. And personally, we could have done without it. Why Akon?

Houston also covered Donny Hathaway's "A Song For You." This was probably the most disappointing song on the album and I don't know who is to blame. The classic song received an unjustifiable dance-inspired makeover. What a mistake! It almost made me want to eject the CD. It started like the original version and then the song went right off the cliff and into a deep dark pit when the uptempo club music started. At that point I was done.

Whitney accomplished a lot with this album. She did what many people thought she couldn't do. She returned and put out a studio album. It probably won't be remembered for much. But at least she did it. She passed the test and scored about a C+.

Her next big exam is tomorrow. A live perform in front of thousands of people in New York's Central Park. The show is free and gates open at 11 a.m. Enter at 69th Street and 5th Avenue, if you're planning to go. We'll see how she scores at that performance. Please, do not pull a 'Milli Vanilli.'

Check out the best track on the album: "Million Dollar Bill"

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