-The most anticipated new album of the year’ is how the sticker on the front of Whitney Houston‘s new album describes the contents beneath – a claim presumably concocted after the demise of one M. Jackson. Nevertheless, the return of Houston is certainly one to attract the attention, coming as it does on the back of a fall from grace to mirror, if not match, Jackson himself. This is certainly something that Whitney’s people are well aware of, matching her musical appearances with a range of chat shows, including a two part Oprah special. Clearly Whitney Houston has a story to tell.
To her credit, it’s a story that I Look To You doesn’t shy away from, albeit in a fairly sanitised manner. There’s a healthy dose of self-reflection going on here, channelled we assume through songwriters such as Alicia Keys, R Kelly and Diane Warren. Throw in long term producer Clive Davies and you may get the impression that this is a record guided by the old guard rather than the newest and brightest lights on the music scene. Which it is, but such an approach proves to be a highly sensible one. I Look To You could have been a car crash of the most spectacular proportions, especially if it had found the singer tagged onto writers, producers and musicians that plainly didn’t suit her (well hi there Madonna). As it goes, her first record four six years fits neatly into her career history with the barest of feather ruffling.
Not everything is quite still in the same place, mainly the singer herself – or her voice at any rate. Time, age and – let’s face it – being married to Bobby Brown have taken their toll and this isn’t the pure soul instrument it once was. Despite the thankful absence of a succession of -featured’ guest rappers phoning in their two bars, there’s still a confusion as to where she should sit, leading to one or two clunky moments (the appalling dance track that ruins the otherwise lovely -A Song For You’ for instance) but generally the record hits around the mark. First single -Million Dollar Bill’ is a fine Alicia Keys number, -For The Lovers’ is a good crack at modern RnB and the ballads are handled sparingly and delicately. With song titles like -I Didn’t Know My Own Strength’, -Like I Never Left’ and -Salute’ there’s a lot of -I Will Survive’ style action going on but, hey, who can blame her. No-one would claim that this is the year’s most radical release (Davies’ production does start to cloy after a while) but on its own terms it’s a small triumph. The thought of Whitney Houston releasing a record so accomplished, together and, above all, dignified seemed a long way off not so long ago but that’s just what she’s achieved.