Hell to the Comeback: Whitney Houston's New Album
Whitney Houston: born in Newark into soul-diva royalty as the cousin of Dionne Warwick and goddaughter of Aretha Franklin on August 9th, 1963, hand-picked by the Ear of God himself Clive Davis while performing with mother Cissy Houston at a small New York nightclub, guided to superstardom with a self-titled debut in 1985 that would define that decade's chart-topping R&B crossover sound, married to onetime industry heavyweight turned pop culture joke Bobby Brown, starred in a number of successful feature films in the 1990s that produced even more successful soundtracks, led astray in the 2000s by rumors of substance abuse, missed concert appearances, reality show doodie-bubble-digging, airport drug arrests, shockingly protrusive collar bones at Michael Jackson tribute concerts, derisive comments made about certain synthetic street drugs that led to angry outcries from the American Association of Crack Manufacturers, divorces, lawsuits, hells to the no...you know the one.
A little over two years ago Davis had seen enough, and, in a bid to recoup his investment, marched through Houston's New Jersey estate with a machete in hand, hacking a path through the mountain of empty candy wrappers and depleted Redi-Whip cans piled against her bedroom door until contact was made, at which point he tossed a large burlap sack over the pop-gospel legend and made off with her in the dead of night. He promised nothing short of the definitive comeback -- a record so self-assured, so mature, and yet so vintage Houston, that the very notion of crack-smoking or doodie-bubble-digging would be the furthest thing from the listener's mind the moment he or she pressed play.
Three recording years later, the album, titled I Look to You, has nearly arrived, set to hit store shelves and iTunes on Aug. 31. Houston will give her first interview in seven years on the season premiere of The Oprah Winfrey Show, a superstar summit Winfrey calls "the most anticipated music interview of the decade" on her website, surpassing even Michael Jackson's ghost popping by The View and a post-Miss Universe-triumph Heidi Pratt exclusive with the Reeg in terms of sheer anticipation.
The full L.P. is streaming right now at whitneyhouston.com. Some first impressions:
1) "Million Dollar Bill"
Mid-tempo disco throwback. The wear on her voice is complemented by a similarly lethargic orchestration. The kind of song you can imagine women coaxing their reluctant husbands to dance to after a particularly heavy wedding meal.
2) "Nothin' But Love"
An opening synth line reawakens Houston's expansive gay fan base, then promptly puts them back to sleep. Again, her voice sounds eroded and tired. The parallels to Dionne Warwick's 1982 comeback album Heartbreaker start coming into clear focus: same vocal wear-down, same crusty arrangements.
3) "Call You Tonight"
Up-tempo ballad, Houston sings about a frustration over being too busy to give someone a call. "That´s the way it goes in life/You get busy when you just don´t wanna/There´s never enough time in your life/You have to make it baby, so I´m gonna." Wonder why she's so busy? A slow, Beyoncé-esque Jam of Longing™.
4) "I Look to You"
The sloppy power ballad title track Houston will be called upon to knock into the rafters in the months to come. Not to beat a dead horse here, but the Earthly Angel quality to her voice is notably absent, replaced by the strain and rasp of an Earthly Woman with Shopping Cart.
8) "Worth It"
Move aside Mariah -- there's a new (old) crazy lady in town! This song has Dong written all over it.
Verdict: Bring on the remixes!