Scottish Preview...

Scotland on Sunday: Preview: Whitney Houston in concert
Published Date: 27 April 2010

WHERE have you been keeping your Whitney ticket since the disappointment of a couple of weeks ago? Has it been stuck to the fridge door, held by the magnet that once played the Macarena but now just gathers dust since the battery ran out? Or perhaps you just tucked it in a drawer?
Well, fret no longer because you're going to use it. At least, I really hope that you're going to get to use it. I've got my fingers crossed for you and I've been repeating the mantra "Crack is Whack, Crack is Whack" since Wednesday.

Getting here has not been easy: cancellations, creaky vocals, slow handclaps, respiratory infections and (I'll be polite) "mixed" reviews. Personally, I thought I had nothing, nothing, nothing to add to the furore surrounding the comeback of Whitney, but I now realise that not only have I something to say, I have, in fact, a theory that can not only explain the travails of Ms Whitney Elizabeth Houston but should also be regarded as a warning for all those aspiring X-Factor-type howlers reaching for multi-octave balladeering greatness.

I begin with a question: how can a woman who has sold more than 170 million albums, has Aretha Franklin as her godmother and is the cousin of Dionne Warwick end up the shambling, croaky-throated car crash as seen on YouTube? Don't just shout Bobby Brown – that is not an answer.

I put it to you, the real reason is key changes.

Whitney is the mother of the key change. Sure, Mariah does it, Mary J does it, Beyoncé does it, Christina does it. But Whitney did it first. So what, you say?

So this: a key change signals a heightening of emotion, the moment that (if you can sing) things go nuclear or (if you can't sing) people start leaving.

It's the money shot, musically speaking. A woman who has banged out as many of those, who has lived at those heady heights, for as long as Whitney in her 35-year career, cannot be expected to retain a connection to reality. I mean it. You can't emote on a global scale for nearly four decades and then remember the price of a pint of milk.

Long before Whitney shambled on to Being Bobby Brown (a reality TV show so heinous the Hollywood Reporter described it as "undoubtedly the most disgusting and execrable series ever to ooze its way onto television") in 2005, things had gone seriously south for Houston.

Yes, in the 1980s and early 1990s she was awesome – seven consecutive No1s, a record deal worth a record-breaking $100 million, the first major artist to perform for president Nelson Mandela in the newly unified, post-apartheid South Africa.

But that's a long time ago. Even if she had looked after her mind and her voice, drinking nothing but honey-laced hot drinks by the gallon, the highest of the high notes might still be escaping her. As it is, this is a woman who, by her own admission, spent seven months in her pyjamas.

Not because she was particularly fond of bedroom attire but because the cocaine and big fat marijuana reefers she was getting through meant she couldn't really do anything else.

There have been mutterings that Whitney is being treated unfairly, that people want to see her fail spectacularly rather than survive with at least a little bit of dignity.

Before the YouTube videos, people were using Houston's appearance on The X Factor to question her state of mind. When Dermot asked what she thought of the contestants, she looked at the floor and said, "I though that they were... um... how do I put this, really good." Ok, not exactly a model of eloquence, but be fair, she'd just had to endure Stacey Solomon – she was dumbstruck.

Media schadenfreude aside, things are looking shaky, though. When the statement was released explaining that Houston was postponing shows, it continued: "Whitney and her band apologise that the show has to be rescheduled on such short notice."

But here's the deal: if you're going to the concert you're obviously a fan, and Whitney could do with them, I reckon.

At best you're going to see a recording legend if not in her prime then at least in person. At worst you're going to see someone who looks like she has no idea where she is, has difficulty staying on her feet and may well have a "wardrobe malfunction".

And let's face it: go out any Saturday night down Sauchiehall Street and you'll see a couple of hundred versions of that.

Whitney Houston's Nothing But Love World Tour 2010 continues at the SECC, Glasgow, on Saturday.

• This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, April 25, 2010



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