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Whitney Houston's "I Look to You" Celebrates Singer's Arc

Illustration for article titled Whitney Houstons I Look to You Celebrates Singers Arc

Whitney Houston has been in the game a long time and she has jumped back into the R&B fray with "I Look to You." From the New York Times:

“I Look to You,” with Ms. Houston’s longtime mentor Clive Davis as her co-producer, is more subdued, canny and cautious. She still sings about the power of love, though it’s not always benign anymore. The album is split between songs that hint at her travails and songs that try to ignore them, like the lightweight, Motown-tinged first single, “Million Dollar Bill,” written and produced by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz.

The title song, written by R. Kelly, harks back to Ms. Houston’s heyday, only to reveal how much she has changed. Like “I Will Always Love You,” the Dolly Parton song that became Ms. Houston’s signature hit in 1992, “I Look to You” is a gospel-rooted ballad that builds up to a vow of devotion before humbly tapering off.

In 1992 she sounded tearful but clear and airborne, making triumphant octave-wide upward leaps. “I Look to You” is a prayer, a desperate appeal to faith: “After all my strength is gone, in you I can be strong.” Now her voice is thicker and lower, and her improvisatory phrases are shorter. They curve downward as if tugged by gravity, making her approachable, even sympathetic.

Ms. Houston’s back story also infuses the upbeat, electronic “Nothin’ but Love,” which promises love to “even the ones who tried to break me,” and a hymnlike Diane Warren song, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” which aims to become an inspirational diva standard: “I crashed down and I tumbled, but I did not crumble/I got through all the pain.” The album’s final song, also by R. Kelly, is “Salute,” a sparsely arranged minor-key breakup song that jeers, “You say I’ll never do better/Yeah, right, whatever.”

For danceable tracks, the album draws on other current hit makers, including Fernando Garibay, Stargate and Nathaniel Hills (a k a Danja). And Ms. Houston collaborates with the producer and singer Akon on midtempo songs promising reconciliation — with a man, but also, perhaps, with the audience that now listens to Beyoncé, Keyshia Cole, Rihanna and Ledisi. At times, in the wistfully insinuating “Like I Never Left,” her voice is nearly indistinguishable from Akon’s computer-tuned croon. She’s tentatively climbing back into the pop machinery, no longer invincible but showing a diva’s determination.

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Have any of you heard th full album yet? If so, what did you think?

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