On The Download: Whitney Houston’s ‘I Look To You’

It’s been seven long years since Whitney Houston last came out with a new full-length studio album – 11 years since she’s put out a decent one. Hers is the comeback that pop culture fans (myself, chief amongst them) have been waiting for most since the 2007 return of Britney Spears.

And now, finally… through all of the obstacles she has faced, one of the greatest divas of the music industry is back with “I Look To You.” The album (in stores Monday, August 31) is a carefully crafted cautious compilation of tracks, put together by none other than her personal mentor and guru, Clive Davis.

So on to the question that everyone is asking – Is it any good?

The answer: Yes.

To Listen To Whitney’s New Album Stream On Her Web Site, CLICK HERE.

Is it great of the magnitude of “The Bodyguard” soundtrack, “Whitney Houston” and “Whitney”?

Not really, but albums like the aforementioned are few & far between.

So let’s break it down.

First, there is the standout track: Whitney’s remake of “A Song For You.” This is the album’s magnum opus. Of course, it’s a remake. First written in 1970 by Leon Russell, the song has been covered famously by everyone from Donny Hathaway and The Carpenters, to Michael Buble and Christina Aguilera. Fans of “American Idol” will remember this track as covered by Elliott Yamin in Season Five, and again during the first audition by this past season’s winner, Kris Allen. Whitney herself performed it for troops returning from the Gulf War in 1991.

But the song heads in a completely different direction in the recording for this album, and it works. Starting slow, and ending upbeat, the track soars into a beautiful crescendo with powerful backing vocals that lifts you up out of your chair and invites you to clap your hands in joy. It is a borderline “great” cover.

Next, the ballads: There are two great soaring ballads on this album - the title track and “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” (penned by Diane Warren), the latter of which was reportedly supposed to have been the lead single.

For me, “Strength” is the stronger of the two. It is the song that truly addresses the “comeback” principal of this album. With lyrics like, “And I crashed down, and I tumbled, But I did not crumble,” it feels like Whitney is speaking honestly to her fans. It’s genuine and it connects. It has the bigger of the big notes – which Whitney hits on both of these tracks. Together, these two songs are beautiful ballads about overcoming adversity and hardship, and they represent the message which Whitney sets out to convey.

Then there are the “pretty good” mid-tempo jams, including: Lead single, “Million Dollar Bill,” “Nothin’ But Love,” “Call You Tonight” and “Like I Never Left” (feat. Akon). All are fun tracks, and all could be released as singles. The only one of this batch that I think has a prospect of making an impact at radio however, is the latter; due to the presence of featured duet partner du jour Akon. “Call You Tonight” might be the album’s hidden gem. It has the most contemporary feel to it, and could easily have been sung by a Mary J. Blige or a Rihanna.

“Bill” (written by Alicia Keys and produced by Swizz Beatz) is a fun track, but it doesn’t make you dance in the “How Will I Know” or “So Emotional” sense of things. It’s got a great melody and a fun retro-R&B feel to the music. It’s a good leadoff single, but it won’t get young folks excited to run off to iTunes to buy Whitney’s new jam.

The last four tracks on the album, also all mid-tempo, feel generic and a bit like album filler. Although, “Worth It” has a nice hook to it, and “For The Lovers” is a fun little ditty that is growing on me with each listen.

By playing it safe on “I Look To You,” Whitney will assure herself a problem-free re-entry into the music industry. Marketed the right way, “A Song For You” or “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” could make huge waves. The dance remixes, no doubt already on their way for many of the tracks, are sure to be stellar.

The Recording Academy will certainly take interest when Grammy nominations come around this year. But in a weak music sales climate, will the fans spend money to buy this album?

Upcoming September promotional appearances on “Good Morning America” (September 2) and “Oprah” (September 14) should help. And Whitney’s built-in fan base has certainly never deserted her. But the question remains: can she convert over the younger generation?

If You Download One Song, Make It: “A Song For You”

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