I Look to You (Sony)
After seven years of silence from their one-time pop princess, Whitney Houston fanatics have two things to celebrate: She's clean! And Bobby's gone! Surely many will rush to see if I Look to You (Sony), her latest effort, stamps her diva status. She's reconnected with legendary producer and executive Clive Davis and is apparently so confident of it that her label moved up its release date to August 31, just shy of the Grammys' deadline for 2010 consideration. But once they're done praising Houston for defeating her inner demons, all they'll be left with is an album that's scarily mediocre.
Her sixth album's title track, "I Look to You," features a powerful R. Kelly-penned story of someone low on strength turning to another for some emotional muscle. Sadly, Houston's voice doesn't shock and awe anymore. Produced by and featuring Akon, "Like I Never Left" finds the Konvict Muzik talent effortlessy outshining Houston over its flutes and bouncing keys. And her cover of Leon Russell's soulful 1970 ballad, "A Song for You," dreadfully mutates into a techno mess best suited for spinning class at the local gym.
The album does have a pulse at times. Houston comes with sass and attitude over jabbing synths on "For The Lovers." Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys bring all the delightful parts of disco, a long dead genre, into 2009 with "Million Dollar Bill." Sampling Loleatta Holloway's 1977 "We're Getting Stronger," it proves that when Houston stays in a silky pocket, she's more than capable of lifting behinds off chairs and on to dance floors. But then the heartbeat fades.
Whitney, who at one point could blow the roof off of a stadium with her powerhouse vocals, can no longer crack the ceiling of a high school gym. Those looking for vintage Houston would be better served purchasing a greatest hits record. I Look To You is underwhelming. It's not bad. It's just good. Come Grammy night, Houston will leave just as she came. --Brad Wete
QUICK QUESTION: Would you bet on Whitney at the Grammys?