The last time Whitney Houston made an attempt at a comeback, with 2002's Just Whitney, it was overshadowed by her continued free fall into tabloid infamy. Drug use, marital battles and wild behavior tarnished her once-regal image so much it was hard to focus on anything musical from Houston, and the fact that Just Whitney was just OK didn't help matters.
These days, Houston is thankfully in much better form personally, and artistically. She appears to have put her demons behind her, and with I Look to You, she has delivered a very good album that shows the pop queen still has a dazzling voice that can leave you spellbound.
Working with an array of songwriters and producers that include proven hitmakers like Diane Warren, Akon and R. Kelly, Houston is certainly helped by top-notch material that can be as engaging as her voice. The disc starts off with a winner, "Million Dollar Bill." The upbeat, funky R&B tune, produced by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz, is an instant party-starter designed to get people of all ages on the dance floor.
"Nothin' but Love" is a midtempo song that recalls Houston in her early '80s heyday, with a synthesized sound that sounds retro but manages not to sound dated. The singer blows kisses to both her supporters and haters with lines like, "I could hold onto pain, but that ain't what my life's about, I ain't blamin' nobody if I ain't got my stuff worked out … Ain't got nothing but love for ya."
While Houston didn't contribute to the writing of any of the album's songs, many of them seem to have been written with Houston's many tribulations in mind. The title track, a soaring ballad written by R. Kelly, refers to life storms and looking to heaven for salvation. On Warren's "I Didn't Know My Own Strength," Houston sings: "I crashed down, and I tumbled, but I did not crumble, I got through all the pain." And on another R. Kelly song, she gives the brush-off to a lover who has caused her drama for years with her own "Salute." (Bobby Brown, anyone?)
Two of the best songs on the CD have nothing to do with any drama, just love. "Like I Never Left," a duet with Akon, is a simple, breezy song about reconnecting with a former love. Houston's voice alternately soars and yearns. "Worth It" is a smoldering song featuring Houston at her seductive best – she doesn't use her powerful voice at full blast, and doesn't need to, enticing listeners with the simple beauty of her voice.
As for that voice – one of the best in the business – while it seems raspier at times than in her peak, it still is a wonder (and likely not aided by studio tricks – a live performance earlier this year proved that Houston's vocal abilities are still intact).
There are one or two songs that weigh down the CD – "For the Lovers" is perhaps the one true misstep – but on the whole, I Look to You is an album that restores the luster to Houston's musical legacy.