[From Time Magazine]

The Overdramatic Duo

After career slowdowns, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey return with tepid comeback albums


Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2002
You've been bruised and confused. There's nowhere to run, and you're in pain, without anyone. You've got a lot to learn; do you know where you can turn? Mariah Carey — fragile workaholic, recovering star of Glitter, multimillion-dollar record-company layoff and author of wounded banalities like those above — would like you to turn to her.

But perhaps neediness isn't your thing. Maybe you're the sparring type, and you live your life the way you feel; no matter what, you keep it real. Then Whitney Houston — reedy substance abuser, self-proclaimed child of God, spouse of one of the world's most consistent recreational-drug suspects, and singer of tough platitudes — awaits your ear.

It's a problem when a singer's personal life is more interesting than her music. The lives of America's two grandest pop divas have become as scandalously compelling as an Aaron Spelling script. But their songs, as demonstrated above, have not. Carey's Charmbracelet and Houston's Just Whitney ... offer decidedly different approaches to the pop comeback; one is penitent, the other defiant. Both are letdowns.

Carey's fall from the charts was the more tragically spectacular. While promoting Glitter, her vanity movie and album, she did a woozy striptease on mtv, posted a series of bizarre ramblings on her website and even flirted with Eminem. After she was hospitalized for exhaustion and Glitter flopped in a Waterworld-meets — Chris Gaines kind of way, Carey's record label paid her $28 million not to record with it again. This is pretty humiliating stuff, and Charmbracelet is not above begging for sympathy. Carey opens with Through the Rain, a somber ballad that reduces her formidable voice to a tentative little quaver. "I can make it through the rain, I can stand up once again," she sings. Never mind that Barry Manilow used these approximate lyrics in 1980's I Made It Through the Rain; Carey herself turned in almost the exact same vocal performance on 1993's Hero.

Much of Charmbracelet follows this pattern: Carey makes vague allusions to her recent problems while musically cannibalizing her back catalog. There are a few moments when she reveals enough to make the formula interesting, as on the playful Clown, a mid-tempo revenge song that responds to Eminem's sexual innuendo with the lines, "You should've never intimated we were lovers/When you know very well we never even touched each other." But mostly Charmbracelet feels like a hedge. There are the guest rappers (Jay-Z, Cam'ron) of Carey's late '90s hits, the chipper ballads of her multiplatinum middle period and even the glass-shattering dolphin shrieks of her early days. But there's a surprising lack of hummable hooks, and all the nostalgia drains Charmbracelet of exuberance, the one thing no pop album can live without.

Just Whitney...has loads of energy. Negative energy. The first single, Whatchulookinat, is a letter to the editor of the National Enquirer disguised as an R.-and-B. song. "Messin' with my reputation, ain't even got no education," sings Houston. "God is the reason my soul is free, and I don't need you looking at me." Few of Houston's lyrics are so specifically barbed, but she has a rare gift for imbuing even the blandest cliche with disdain. Houston is still one of the dozen best singers in the world, and her defiance would be worth slogging through if she'd just ululate a little. But with the exception of On My Own, an elegant twist on Diana Ross's It's My Turn, those magical BOOM! "and ayiiiii-eeeeyay..." moments never come. Instead, Houston talk-sings over a series of dry R.-and-B., pop and gospel riffs. Whether her reluctance to hit the top of her range is a sign of a deteriorating voice or an unwillingness to please is hard to know.

The best songs on Charmbracelet and Just Whitney ... are covers. Carey does a terrific remake of Def Leppard's Bringin' on the Heartbreak, and Houston turns the cheeseball standard You Light Up My Life into something vaguely moving. Both have succeeded with covers before — Houston famously with Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You, Carey with Journey's Open Arms and her near-cover of Tom Tom Club's Genius of Love. Perhaps when your own life is unbelievable, it's easier to sing as someone else.

From the Dec. 16, 2002 issue of TIME magazine



n a v i g a t e  c l a s s i c  w h i t n e y

Newsfile Reports
Awards // Records
Sales Statistics
Current Tour Info
Albums // Singles
Chart Log
Audio // Video
The Bodyguard
Waiting To Exhale
The Preacher's Wife
New Movie Projects
Movie Index
Album Covers
Singles Covers
Whitney Live
Listed Galleries
Interviews & Articles
Music Reviews
Movie Reviews
W H Foundation
Fan Club
Discussion Forum
Mailing List
Chat Room
Email Manish

www.classicwhitney.com - Copyright Notice & Disclaimer