I Look To You – Whitney Houston (2009)

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Whitney Houston released her seventh and final album in 2009 with “I Look To You”. It was her album since the poor offering “Just Whitney” in 2002 and marked much improvement.

Her death in 2012 makes this album more significant with a number of songs relating to her career and personal life which makes this quite a fitting end to a sensational career.

The album opens with the spectacular “Million Dollar Bill”. Written by Alicia Keys the song starts off with Houston attempting to display that massive voice. The verse sees Houston singing at a fast pace that even with the over production still sees her struggle for breath a little.

The song is a great track though and by far the best on the entire album. Houston sings about finding love and how this man is making her feel like a million dollar bill. It’s a fun song, very danceable and incredibly enjoyable.

“Nothin’ But Love” follows and again it’s a very strong track. The lyrics on this track are quite personal for Houston (although she did not have a hand in any of the writing on this track or entire album).

“I could hold on to pain but that ain’t what my life’s about
I ain’t blaming nobody if I ain’t got my stuff worked out
I got love for my self, ain’t gonna regret anything I’ve done
I just wanna sing my song, ain’t got nothin but love”

Whilst I like the song you cannot help but be a bit taken aback by the vocal from Houston. For a singer whose voice was so pure there is an evident huskiness to it’s sound. The voice sounds tired and worn. For a seasoned vocalist whose entire career was about this wonderful voice it is a little disheartening to hear what is has become.

With the first two tracks sounding quite contemporary “Call You Tonight” reigns that in with a dated sound. The production is a little tired and the lyrics are hollow.

“So I’mma call you tonight
I will baby, just as soon as I get time alone
I’mma call you tonight
I will baby, just as soon as I get home”

The title track comes next. It is one of those inspirational type ballads with a lone piano playing in the background. All the cliched lyrics come out talking about what she has been through and how this person has given her strength etc. Houston’s vocal is exposed again as it has been stripped of that power she once possessed.

“Like I Never Left” features Akon and suits this new Houston vocal perfectly. It sounds modern and the song is quite a sweet one. It’s sentiment seems more genuine and the inclusion of Akon gives the song a two sided story about two people who have been apart but they have never left each others mind.

“A Song For You” is a cover of the track by Leon Russell. The song starts off exactly like the Russell version with that beautiful piano. The cover lacks the eccentric character that Russell displays on his original and then after 1.29 we get this quite awful club music. It sounds like i’ve just walked into a gay club with men dancing in cages and a Whitney Houston drag act bellowing out this song on the stage. Ironically someone needed to tell Houston that this song was really not for her.

“I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” is the big power ballad from the album. The structure of the track is similar to all the slow songs on the album with the lone pianio, Houston’s vocal and then a slow build up to the chorus. This song is one in defiance of everything she has been through in the previous decade.

“Survived my darkest hour, my faith kept me alive
I picked myself back up, hold my head up high
I was not built to break
I didn’t know my own strength”

“Worth It” is a standard mid tempo R&B song which sounds a little like a spare song Mary J Blige had knocking about. From my perspective as a R&B fan I would obviously encourage Houston making a song like this because it shows her mixing it with her contemperies and those she actually most likely inspired. The problem is the Whitney Houston of 1992 would have vocally conquered this song and whilst the delivery on “Worth It” is better than other on the album it still falls short of my high expectations.

“For The Lovers” is a much better effort. It’s stomping beat and confident sounding vocal really fits the song well. It’s not very Whitney but that perhaps is required. It’s got a great hook and whilst the song is lyrically another tired subject of female impoverishment.

Akon returns on the next track “I Got You”. It’s a similar sound to “Worth It”. I would probably choose this as the better of the two but again it offers nothing new and you would be hoping that after 7 years without an album release that Whitney Houston could do better than such tame efforts as “I Got You”.

R Kelly lends a song writing hand to “Salute” which is the final track on the album. It has a minimal production with some hand claps and a standard R&B beat. The chorus is long and Whitney doesn’t actually sing on it – unless they think we believe she is doing the vocal because she clearly isn’t. She sings the verse, the song is pretty crap in all honesty. It’s weak, like most of the tracks this album gives us.

There are a few good moments on “I Look To You” which is an album that tries to please all Houston fans with big ballads, contemporary generic R&B and some fresher sounding songs. The ballads are pointness as she can no longer reach the vocal required and for someone with such a unique voice I do not know why the decision was made on some tracks to make her sound like any other bog standard female R&B singer. This is Whitney Houston we are talking about here – one of the greatest vocalist in the last 40 years of music.

 Rating

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