Whitney tries to re-enter her star’s decaying orbit, but crashes and burns
2 out of 5 stars
I LOOK TO YOU
When we learned Whitney Houston was on the comeback trail — again — we rallied for her to bounce back from her divorce and artistic absence. We wanted to be blown away with a new album, her best yet if she could. This one would be better than her first comeback, Just Whitney, and put her back on track with sister pop icon, Madonna.
I Look To You, her sixth album of original material, misses every mark of a true Whitney album. The songs play so blandly, you’d expect to hear them over the Kohl’s speakers while shopping for a pair of khakis. Her ditties are listenable but only enough to fill the background.
The album breaks out of the gate with "Million Dollar Bill," the anchor single. Her initial vocal run is strong and pauses for breath make her sound confident.
Then the beat hits, and all of the sudden you’re in middle school, surrounded by bubblegum pop. The lack of depth in tone and lyrics is a huge disappointment for an opener. This song would have fit easily next to "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" — um, like, 23 years ago.
The sound echoes on track two with "Nothin’ But Love," though more successfully. It’s smarter than "Million" and would have been a far more interesting first single. She starts with her musical diary here: "I could hold on to pain/ but that ain’t what my life’s about," she sings with great swagger but it’s a forgettable song that never takes her to the next level … although the next level for this album would have been anything off The Bodyguard soundtrack.
The real crime is, her ballads don’t fare much better. When Houston belts those out, people listen. Her voice now has a grittiness that could come with age but sounds more like she has just let her instrument atrophy. Her lower register is borderline whispery and has become pedestrian.
The title track is a win, finally. It’s a pretty song although it won’t rank high on her balladry work. But "I Didn’t Know My Own Strength" is a laughable epic with lyrics that sound like a self-help book put to music. "And I’ve crashed down and I’ve tumbled/ but I did not cuh-rumble," is overly saccharine, and at times, she sings so fast as if to fit the words in.
She does the same with "A Song For You," where she plays to the gays with a club-ready sound. I’m never sure whom she’s singing to: immediately it speaks to her fans, but then she switches to perhaps a lover then maybe her daughter. It’s a frustrating merry-go-round that should just be danced but not listened to.
I Look To You is filled with countless missteps. Houston-the-artist (not to mention a producer) should know better. It’s is nothing more than 11 songs of mediocrity that reek of a rush release. Audiences who were waiting to exhale with this release will have to hold their breath a bit longer … or just give up.
You knew we couldn’t go through Pride without a mixtape
With a little tweaking on your perspective, some of these songs can take on a whole new meaning. But all in all, this Pride mixtape should get you for the weekend — and perhaps, even fired up.
"Love Today" — MIKA: MIKA’s fresh Brit-pop is irresistible, and when he sings about happily spreading the love, who wouldn’t want to?
"I’m Coming Out" — Diana Ross: What? Too obvious? I wonder if Miss Ross knew when recording this she had a gay anthem on her hands with this classic.
"Way Out" — Yeah Yeah Yeahs: This defiant rocker makes more sense if you apply it to your out and proud self. Or you can just bang your head to it. Either way is good.
"Express Yourself" — Madonna: This vintage Madonna gave the timeless advice to not "go for second best." We’re trying our best, Madge!
"I’m Still Standing" — Elton John: It almost sounds like Elton is talking to all those peeps who keep trying to knock us down.
"The Wrong Fag To Fuck With" — Jonny McGovern (pictured): This song is over-the-top-wrong but oh-so-funny with "Big Gay Sketch Show" alum McGovern as the gay-ngster pimp daddy whose "looking out for my little gay babies" while he’s "gonna take care of business."
"One Better World" — ABC: Their dance-y opus to sharing a better world where it "doesn’t matter if you’re gay of if you’re straight" still sounds good more than 20 years after its original release.
"Come So Far (But We Got So Far To Go)" — from the Hairspray soundtrack: Queen Latifah and gang sing up the optimisim with poignant lyrics like "The road was filled with twists and turns/oh but that’s the road that got us here."
"Rally" — Phoenix: These French pop-rockers are always a good listen but the lyrics "Hook up with me, man, at the rally," are too priceless to ignore for post-parade activities.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 18, 2009.