whitneyhoustonilook

The cover of Whitney Houston's new album has the returning singer looking so fresh-faced and unlined that one might think that one of the perks to surviving Bobby, "crack-is-wack" and an assortment of other tribulations is unfettered access to Botox. Every CD cover photo gets its share of flattering lighting, theatrical makeup and retouching but there's something so aggressively, urgently perfect about Whitney's image on "I Look to You" that it's more discombobulating than reassuring. The image tries to suggest that Whitney hasn't aged, that nothing has changed. In fact, it echoes her debut album in that her hair is pushed back off her face and her torso is wrapped in clothing that is vaguely Grecian.

It's as though Whitney is starring in a sequel to her old life. There's nothing wrong with putting your best, artificially enhanced face forward, but so plaintively declaring that you've still got that youthful innocence -- when to some degree it was naivete that got you into so much trouble to begin with -- is a bit worrisome. I don't want to be told that everything is the same. It's not. And that live performance on "Good Morning, America," proved that a lot has changed down in the lower register of her voice. A more powerful photo would have been less glossy, less manufactured. It would have revealed some of the flaws, maybe even a little bit of the pain. That would have helped clear the way for folks to appreciate her for who she has become. Instead, I'm simply reminded of what she'd once been. And I continue to mourn its loss.

--ROBIN GIVHAN