I started writing my review of Whitney Houston’s I Look to You three times. Each time, I was unhappy and had to start over. One time I did not think I was writing well enough. Another time I got tired of thinking about the CD and deleted my progress in frustration. Once I wished I had a stronger opinion about the album. So it goes. Each time, I was thwarted by the same realization: This album just does not inspire me. It's a bit sad, really. I find the uptempo numbers well-produced yet uninteresting. I think the ballads are well-sung but not particularly well-written. Overall, I think that I had really high expectations for Whitney’s return and I was rewarded with a serviceable album. The metaphorical crack to the cocaine of Whitney's earlier efforts.
Sure, Whitney isn’t an album artist. Almost all of her CDs are stuffed with filler and three to four amazing singles. Perhaps I Look To You has less filler, but it also lacks any surefire radio jams. The album’s opener, Million Dollar Bill, is the song most likely to tear up the radio waves. Nevertheless, I find myself skeptical that it will really take off. As a good friend described it, “it sounds like an Alicia Key’s reject—which it is.” My friend is pretty wise when it comes to music, and I find myself agreeing with him. The song is objectively catchy, but to revive a career after a seven-year hiatus, you’d think it would need to hit a bit harder.
Another Whitney staple is the bombastic ballad. Here there are two: I Look to You and I Didn’t Know My Own Strength. I’ve already made my thoughts clear on I Didn’t Know My Own Strength in an earlier review. I Look to You isn’t much better. I find I Look to You to be more melodic, but it doesn’t solve any of the problems presented by I Didn’t Know My Own Strength. The lyrics are horribly vague and Whitney’s voice isn’t what it used to be. In some cases on the CD, it works to her benefit, adding grit and soul to an otherwise pedestrian track. However, when she reaches the bridge on both of these songs, it’s painfully clear she can’t sing like she used to.
Yet, through all of my frustration with this CD, there are a few gems that show promise for Ms. Houston. The best of the lot is Salute, the album’s final number. With the ballads, Whitney basically hits us over the head saying how difficult things have been these past few years. The self-referencing is obvious, yet the emotional substance is lacking. With Salute, it seems like she’s just recording a song about a love gone wrong. Somehow, though, it hits harder that she might have intended. Clearly Bobby B is the one she’s saluting. Also, I Got You is a surprisingly enjoyable song because it has a unique reggae vibe that suits Houston pretty well.
As I mentioned earlier, there really isn’t filler on this album. Each track has some value, even the ballads. To that end, the material here is better than a typical Whitney album. However, without huge singles and her pristine voice, this just doesn't feel like Whitney. How uninspiring.
Rating: 2.5/5 stars.
Savage Songs: Salute, I Got You, Million Dollar Bill