Billboard Review, 24 August 2009
Los Angeles Times Instant Thoughts, 24 August 2009

Los Angeles Times Review, 25 August 2009
Entertainment Weekly Review, 25 August 2009
USA Today Review, 26 August 2009
Chicago Sun Times Review, 26 August 2009
The Buffalo News, 27 August 2009

Access Hollywood, 27 August 2009

New York Newsday Review, 28 August 2009
St Petersburg Times, 28 August 2009

Boston Herald, 30 August 2009
Winnipeg Sun, 30 August 2009
Toronto Star, 30 August 2009
New York Times, 30 August 2009

New York Post, 30 August 2009
New York Daily News, 30 August 2009

The Washington Times, 31 August 2009
Associated Press, 31 August 2009

Lincoln Journal Star, 31 August 2009
Houston Chronicle
, 1 September 2009
Digital Spy, 1 September 2009
Melbourne Herald Sun, 2 September 2009

California Chronical, 4 September 2009
San Francisco Chronicle, 6 September 2009
Guardian, 15 October 2009
The Times, 16 October 2009
Independent, 16 October 2009
The Mirror, 16 October 2009
The Telegraph, 16 October 2009
The Sunday  Times, 18 October 2009

The Observer, 18 October 2009

Scotsman, 19 October 2009
London Metro, 19 October 2009
Malaysian Sun, 19 October 2009


Billboard: Whitney Houston's 'I Look To You': First Listen
by Gail Mitchell, L.A. | August 24, 2009 10:27 EDT

Finally, the moment is almost here: the release of Whitney Houston's long-anticipated new studio album after a seven-year break. "I Look to You" (Arista/RCA Music Group) will arrive in stores Aug. 31.

Here's a track-by-track rundown of what's in store:

1. "Million Dollar Bill" (3:24)
Opening the proceedings is this club jam that practically screams remix. Produced by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz, it's accented by a catchy hook on which Houston emphatically notes, "If he makes you feel like a million dollar bill, say it." The song contains a sample from "We're Getting Stronger" as performed by Loleatta Holloway.

2. "Nothin' But Love" (3:35)
Behind the production helm are uptempo specialists Fernando Garibay and Nate "Danja" Hills. Houston proclaims that after everything she's been through, she has nothin' but love for family, teachers and "anyone who tried to hate on me/ Even the ones who tried to break me take me down."

3. "Call You Tonight" (4:09)
This is a lilting mid-tempo tune about love, a cornerstone subject in Houston's storied career. Her assured, distinctive vocals are front and center on this Stargate production.

4. "I Look to You" (4:26)
The first single and title track is one of two R. Kelly compositions on the album. It's a simple, inspirational ballad that comes closest to Houston's iconic "I Will Always Love You"; co-produced by Tricky Stewart and Harvey Mason Jr.

5. "Like I Never Left" featuring Akon (3:49)
Akon produced this easygoing, mid-tempo groove about reconciling lovers. His musical tenor is the perfect complement to Houston's resonating, gospel-honed voice. She also co-wrote the song.

6. "A Song for You" (4:11)
The album's only cover is a classic penned by Leon Russell and recorded by a number of artists, most notably Donny Hathaway. Houston puts her own stamp on the track, starting slow and then revving up the tempo. Remindful of Houston's 1993 cover of "I'm Every Woman," this is another Stargate-produced track.

7. "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" (3:40)
It wouldn't be a Whitney Houston album without at least a couple of ballads. This dramatic anthem -- heavy on the piano, drums and synths -- was penned by Diane Warren and produced by David Foster.

8. "Worth It" (4:39)
An understated but still sassy and saucy Houston goes to work on this mid-tempo song about knowing when love is worth it. She sings, "This is for the lovers just getting on their feet; for the lovers 20 years deep." It's produced by Eric Hudson (Kanye West, Ne-Yo, Mary J. Blige).

9. "For the Lovers" (4:13)
Houston ratchets up the beat on this outing, whose contemporary, infectious rhythms signal another potential club and/or top 40 single. Nate "Danja" Hills produced.

10. "I Got You" (4:12)
With its atmospheric backdrop, this cut is a heart-felt declaration about the never-fading chemistry between two former romantic partners. Akon steps back in as producer on this mid-tempo selection, also co-written by Houston.

11. "Salute" (4:10)
Minimal accompaniment -- keyboard, drums and guitar -- provides the backdrop on the second of R. Kelly's contributions. With conviction in her voice, Houston is ready to shed no more tears as she salutes a departing lover. You can fill in the blank.

ALBUM: I LOOK TO YOU (Arista/RCA Music Group)

NEW YORK (Billboard) - The imminent release of Whitney Houston's "I Look to You" (her first studio album in seven years) keeps prompting the elephant-in-the-room question: How does she sound? Well, Houston turns in a solid performance on this 11-track set. And it underscores her still-considerable gift for delivering the emotion in a song, which is especially showcased on the title track/lead single.

While Houston may not top her iconic performance of "I Will Always Love You," she more than holds her own on this R. Kelly-penned ballad about finding strength in the face of adversity. She gets her party swerve going on the album's standout cut, "Million Dollar Bill," produced by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz.

Another keeper is the midtempo, relationship-themed "Like I Never Left" featuring Akon. Primarily comprising up- and midtempo selections -- including an amped cover of Leon Russell's "A Song for You" -- "I Look to You" finds Houston channeling the self-assured singer she exhibited on 1998's "My Love Is Your Love."

The set is a nice welcome back and a new beginning.


Los Angeles Times: Whitney Houston's 'I Look to You': Instant track-by-track thoughts
August 24, 2009 | 3:01 pm

Just in time for Grammy consideration, and a week earlier than expected, Whitney Houston’s comeback effort, “I Look to You,” has made its way to the Web as an official stream. The album will officially be available on Aug. 31.

Times pop music chief Ann Powers will provide a thorough analysis of the effort in the coming days, but Pop & Hiss is getting the conversation started now. Here’s some insta-track-by-track thoughts. All of the thoughts below were written based solely on one listen. Pausing, however, was allowed.

1. “Million Dollar Bill.” This is a refreshing album opener, as it’s right in Houston’s comfort zone. There was the fear that Houston might try to belt one right out of the park from the start, what with Alicia Keys listed as the songwriter, and Swizz Beatz, whose credits include everyone from Beyoncé to Jay-Z, leading the production credits. That’s not the case, as it’s a swift and easy retro R&B cut. In fact, Houston returns with an album opener that feels lifted direct from the '70s. That’s not an accident, as it features a sample of Loleatta Holloway’s mid-'70s cut “We’re Getting Stronger (The Longer We Stay Together).” Here’s a handy-dandy comparison.

2. “Nothin’ But Love.” Houston’s sound gets a little more modernized here, courtesy of Timbaland associate Nathaniel “Danja” Hills. It’s upbeat, and it starts as a tale of survival and strength, with Houston generically referencing “all the things that I’ve been through” in the song’s opening moments, and offering a casual brush-off to the “haters” as the song builds to the chorus. But don’t go looking for personal details, as the song fits in nicely with the '80s synth revival currently on pop radio, and is a love letter to family bonds. A nice touch, though, is the sparse second verse, framing a wiser, raspier-sounding Houston than we’re used to.

3. “Call You Tonight.” We’re settling in here for a relatively mid-tempo, easy-listening R&B pop record. Houston’s voice is framed by what sounds like some heavily produced acoustic strings, and a brief, mournful guitar. It is, however, a nice showcase for her vocal command, letting her notes quiver and trail off ever so slightly.

4. “I Look to You.” We’ve heard and discussed this one before, and it’s not any more impressive on the album. The production is downright cheesy, with sparkling, futuristic effects twinkling in the background throughout the song’s full four-plus minutes. This is an end-credits song.

5. “Like I Never Left.” Akon marks his territory, announcing his production hand in the song’s opening moments. He would have been better to keep his mouth shut, as his studio-enhanced vocals laden this comeback tale with clichés. Akon doesn’t really sound the lover, more the Whitney fan, cheerleading her return.

6. “A Song for You.” The classic Leon Russell tune, perhaps best known in its Donny Hathaway cover, and now an “American Idol” audition staple. Give Houston, who has tackled the song before, credit for playing with the arrangement, turning it into an upbeat pop number. But this version isn’t going to bring anyone to tears, and I’m not sure it’s going to bring anyone to the dance floor. It made me miss Houston’s earlier, shout-to-the-rafters rendition.

7. “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength.” Another one we’ve heard before. Over time, this one has grown on me as a powerful statement of survival, while the title track isn’t something I need to hear again. It suffers again from the random electronic skittles in the background, but if Houston is no longer straining her vocals to the max, there’s something very resilient in the way the song builds, and she sounds sturdier here than on any other track.

8. “Worth It.” With “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” building to a show-stopping finale, “Worth It” doesn’t make an effort to maintain the momentum. Instead, we divert back to a hand-clap-laden ditty. Honestly, after the personal take of the last ballad – a should-have-been album closer – this is hitting me as filler.

9. “For the Lovers.” Now it’s becoming more apparent why Arista / RCA teased with the ballads, as when Houston slides into Top-40 mode, the songs are loaded with so much production, they sometimes feel as if they could be sung just as successfully by any number of pop stars. That being said, this is the most forceful dance cut on the record, and it’s got club-hit written all over it. Compared to recent Mariah Carey and Madonna tracks we’ve heard, this is far a more aggressive, groovy and catchy tune.

10. “I Got You.” Akon returns with his second cut on the album, and it’s definitely a more interesting one than “Like I Never Left,” with its finger-picked strings and grand, synthesized orchestra. Houston’s vocals are more brawny than soaring these days, and the song’s brick heavy production is built to withstand them

11. “Salute.” R. Kelly also fares better on his second cut, although the backing singers are on equal ground as Houston here. But it’s a biting, angry send-off for the album, an acerbic wave goodbye to a lover, as well as any doubters. “Don’t call it comeback,” Houston forces out through gritted teeth. “I’ve been here for years – through all the drama and the pain.” While gossip hounds will want to parse the lyrics, the album could have used more of this – it’s a fiery, passionate Houston, and one ready to tackle, confront and conquer her long absence from the pop landscape.

Be sure to stay tuned to Pop & Hiss, as Powers will offer a deeper look at the album, and its place in the Whitney canon, in the coming days.

-- Todd Martens


LA Times Album Review: Whitney Houston's 'I Look to You'
August 25, 2009 | 3:52 pm

The classic voice isn't there anymore -- how could it be? -- but the album is an effective set.

Certain voices stand like monuments upon the landscape of 20th century pop, defining the architecture of their times, sheltering the dreams of millions and inspiring the climbing careers of countless imitators. Whitney Houston owns one of those voices.

When she was at her best, nothing could match her huge, clean, cool mezzo-soprano -- not Madonna's canny chirp, not Bono's stone church wail nor Bruce Springsteen's ramshackle growl. No, it was Houston who best embodied the feminine but gym-toned, black-inspired but aspirationally post-racial sound of global crossover pop. Like a Trump skyscraper, Houston the singer was as showily dominant as corporate capitalism itself.

Then, like many a glorious edifice, Houston's voice fell into disrepair. Drug abuse and a rocky marriage to New Jack jerk Bobby Brown made her a tabloid staple. More tragically (for listeners, at least), her excesses trashed her instrument, which age and normal wear and tear would have imperiled anyway.

The pain and, frankly, disgust that so many pop fans felt during Houston's decline was caused not so much by her personal distress as by her seemingly careless treatment of the national treasure that happened to reside within her.

"I Look to You," the singer's comeback after nearly a decade of ignominy, is a costly renovation overseen by her mentor, Clive Davis, and enacted by the best craftspeople money can buy, including the producers Akon, Stargate and Nate "Danja" Hills and the songwriters Diane Warren and Alicia Keys. It's not unsuccessful: This is a habitable set of songs. But there's a limit to what Houston can accomplish, and operating within limits becomes the album's overriding theme.

This happens beneath the music's surface, which balances inspirational balladry with bubblicious club pop, as Houston's music always has done. Houston's songwriters and producers provide her with top-notch tools; she wields them cautiously and almost humbly, never falling because she never reaches too high.

The best giant ballad is the Warren-penned, David Foster-produced "I Didn't Know My Own Strength," an exhibition of battle scars that's richer for the weary, injury-protecting quality of Houston's vocal. If she does earn the Grammy she's virtually been promised for a song from this set, it should be for this one.

R. Kelly's contributions -- the megachurchy title track and "Salute," a sort of rewrite of Rihanna's "Take a Bow" -- are less convincing, mostly because Houston can't muster the giant ego that's made similar songs golden for Kells himself.

On most of the album, platinum beats overshadow any vocal pyrotechnics, and Houston interacts with her backing tracks with the muscle memory of a dance-floor veteran. It's rewarding when she really settles into her rougher midlife tone, especially on the Danja-produced "Nothin' But Love," perhaps the most pugnacious thank-you note ever recorded.

When she aims for sweet, as in the hooky "Worth It," or spirited, as on the disco-fab climax of the Leon Russell cover "A Song for You," she gets there with effort.

But should we begrudge the fact that Whitney Houston now has to work at singing? It's all to her credit. What's hard to give up is the dream of painless perfection that the young Houston represented, back in the yuppie era, when her voice sounded like the easy money that was flowing everywhere. Of course, that didn't turn out so well for anyone else, either.

Though "I Look to You" doesn't soar like the old days, it's fine to hear Houston working on her own recovery plan.

--Ann Powers

Whitney Houston
"I Look to You"
Three stars


Entertainment Weekly: I Look To You (2009)
Whitney Houston

B- By Leah Greenblatt Leah Greenblatt

Pop stardom has its privileges. Unlike schoolteachers and tax accountants,
 creative types with personal demons are often able to take what doesn't kill them and emerge not only stronger, but with a new sort of depth and pathos — and often, a wider audience for the pain they turn into art.

I Look to You, Whitney Houston's first 
 album in seven years, doesn't pretend to 
 offer the unblemished 21-year-old we met on her smash 1985 debut, but it never 
truly lets listeners inside the heart and head of the woman she is today. A number of tracks obliquely reference her well-
documented dark times, from the midtempo club jam ''Nothin' but Love'' (''I could hold on to pain but that ain't what my life's about/ I ain't blaming nobody if I don't have my stuff worked out'') to the soaring, shamelessly schmaltzy title track ("every road that I've taken/Led to my regret"). Houston's famous voice, which now sounds husky and glottal, as if her vocal cords were sent through a washer-dryer cycle with a handful of small rocks, brings a gravity that the album's often generically worded ballads lack. Still, she seems 
relieved to turn to lighter stuff, like the saucy-sweet Alicia Keys collaboration ''Million Dollar Bill'' and airy Akon duet ''Like I Never Left.''

On the album's thumping coda, ''Salute,'' Houston refers to herself as a ''soldier girl'' (''I took the fall, now I stand tall''), but 
 listeners may feel shut out of the fight. Whatever hardship she's endured, the battles within remain a mystery. B–

USA Today: Whitney Houston's voice, emotion lift new 'I Look to You'
By Steve Jones, USA TODAY

Near the end of her new album, I Look to You (* * * ½ out of four), Whitney Houston declares, "Don't call it a comeback/I've been here for years." She certainly sounds strong, confident and ready for the well-orchestrated return that has been building for months — and fully equipped to dispel lingering concerns that she no longer has the pipes.
The singer's sixth studio album — out Monday but streaming now on her website — is her first since 2002's Just Whitney and best since 1998's My Love Is Your Love. It's loaded with tunes that are perfect for recapturing the magic that once made her a transcendent star. Executive producer Clive Davis helped stack the deck in her favor with a raft of A-list songwriters and producers, including Alicia Keys, Johntà Austin, Diane Warren, R. Kelly, Nate "Danja" Hills, Akon, Harvey Mason Jr., Swizz Beatz and David Foster.

They provide her with beats and lyrics befitting someone making a fresh start, and Houston, 46, makes the most of it. She clearly hasn't forgotten how to sing, imbuing the material with emotional power without a lot of overly dramatic vocal runs.

To her credit, Houston doesn't apologize or wallow in pity for the tabloid-chronicled personal problems that derailed her career, but instead strives to shake off and rise above the muck. On several occasions, she addresses her troubles but finds the inner resolve to overcome them.

"I could hold onto the pain, but that ain't what my life's about," she sings on Nothin' But Love. On I Didn't Know My Own Strength, she declares, "I wasn't built to break."

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Alicia Keys | Whitney Houston | Bobby Brown | Clive Davis | Diane Warren
This is not a woman crying about her bad luck but one who fell hard, pulled herself up and discovered she wasn't as fragile as she may have thought. And though she never mentions ex-husband Bobby Brown by name, the Kelly-written closing kiss-off Salute surely could be aimed in his direction.

Returning to her classic sound, Houston should have no trouble reconnecting with those longtime fans who will always love her. Whether her more contemporary collaborators can help her engage a new generation of fans and radio programmers remains to be seen. But she can hope, at least, that fans will feel as she does on her duet with Akon and react Like I Never Left.

>Download: Million Dollar Bill, A Song for You, I Didn't Know My Own Strength, Salute
>Skip: For the Lovers

Chicago Sun Times: Whitney Houston in strong voice, upbeat mood on comeback
August 26, 2009

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic

‘I Look to You’

3 stars

Seven years is an eternity in popular music, and the woman known as “The Voice” seems to have spent much of that time in a very dark place.

For the current generation of pop and R&B fans, Whitney Houston is best known for the troubled homelife she shared with the world on the reality television show “Being Bobby Brown.” She finally divorced Brown in 2007, but not before making a series of tawdry headlines, from a bust in Hawaii when authorities found pot in her luggage, to an abruptly canceled appearance at the Academy Awards, to rumors that her spectacular vocal instrument had been damaged beyond repair by substance abuse.

Ask most kids today if they’re aware of Houston’s musical accomplishments — the record-breaking string of multiplatinum hits, including the 1993 cover of “I Will Always Love You,” one of the biggest singles of all time — and they’ll probably say, “Hell to the no!” They’re more likely to react to a Monica Lewinsky joke.

The personal turmoil isn’t Houston’s biggest comeback challenge, however; everyone loves a good redemption story. The real hurdle is that 25 years after musical impresario Clive Davis took a girl from Newark, N.J., and struck gold with the formula of soaring, virtuosic vocals delivered over soft, cushy, melodramatic pillows of smoother-than-smooth backing tracks, the prime vehicle for peddling such sounds has long since shifted to the “American Idol” universe.

It’s probably a given that older fans who haven’t had a Whitney fix since the disappointing “Just Whitney” in 2002 will embrace her long-awaited sixth album, “I Look to You,” which arrives in stores on Tuesday. But for Houston to reclaim her diva crown and superstar status, she also needs to appeal to those younger listeners.

To this end, executive producer Davis recruited some of the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B to handle the knob-twirling and songwriting — Swizz Beatz, R. Kelly, Alicia Keys, Akon, Stargate, Diane Warren and David Foster included — at a cost that no doubt tops the annual expenditures of many small nations. Then he tinkered with it all for nearly two years: The disc initially was set for release in late 2007.

The first thing that strikes you when listening to “I Look to You” is that despite all of those stylistically diverse egos in the kitchen, “I Look to You” doesn’t sound overcooked at all: The sound throughout is clean, modern, unfettered and consistently designed to keep the focus on Houston’s singing, whether it’s on the moderately bouncing club tracks (which lean toward old-school house rather than modern electro) or the requisite ballads (Kelly pares things down to little more than a grand piano and vocals on the two tracks he helms). The only time things stray from this goal is during a pointless duet with Akon on “Like I Never Left.”

The second thing that hits you is that Houston’s singing is still incredibly powerful — a sublime mix of gospel purity, pop prissiness and bedroom purr. True, there are no spectacular key changes and show-stopping leaps to her highest register; these days, when Houston stretches for those impossible notes, she does so much more gingerly. But the lack of octave-spanning trilling actually is an improvement in my book, which always favors emotional expression over rote displays of technical ability.

As for the emotions Houston is expressing, the theme of weathering hard times and coming out the better for them runs through all 11 tracks, including the cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.” (He’s no Dolly Parton, but it’s still a lovely tune in Houston’s hands.) As the singer said at one of her high-profile listening parties, “There are times in life when we go through certain situations — some not so good. You have to reach for a higher strength, you have to reach deep inside yourself, spend time with yourself to make some corrections that go beyond your own understanding and lean on a higher understanding.”

Oprah viewers will of course swoon over the sounds and thoughts expressed in tracks such as the Kelly-helmed “Salute” (“So don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years/Through all of the drama and the pain and all of the tears/It’s time to stop this roller coaster so that I can get off/And start moving mountains, swimming seas, and climbing over”) and the Warren-Foster power ballad “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” (“I crashed down and I tumbled/But I did not crumble/I got through all the pain/I didn’t know my own strength/ Survived my darkest hour/My faith kept me alive/I picked myself back up/Hold my head up high”).

But my bet is that the “American Idol” crowd will connect with many of these tracks, too: They may not have struggled with divorce and rehab, but Houston’s just-hang-on histrionics speak just as movingly to that unrequited sophomore crush, and heartbreak is heartbreak, after all. Certainly anyone in need of tear-jerking ballads and uplifting groovers could do much worse on the current pop scene, and when our heroine croons, “I want you to love me like I never left,” she gives us plenty of reasons to heed her call.


The Buffalo News: Houston tries to put hard times behind her
By Jeff Miers
Updated: August 27, 2009

Whitney Houston hasn’t released an album in seven years. During that time, a whole generation of listeners came to know her as the tabloid figure hell-bent on heading straight down the tubes before the prying eyes of millions.

For folks weaned on Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas and Lady GaGa, Houston is that woman who used to sing, and is now a beaten-down victim of bad love and worse drugs. So “I Look To You,” out Tuesday, arrives as much more than simply a new Whitney Houston album. It is, in fact, much like the album Michael Jackson might’ve released had he lived –a make-or-break release, a final opportunity to reassert former glories.

Some of “I Look To You” is up to the task. Some of it isn’t. The whole shebang is pretty fascinating, though, mostly because it’s now impossible to separate the music offered here from the back story of the Whitney-Bobby Brown affair, and the very high-profile collapse. There’s something very “Entertainment Tonight” about the whole thing.

Can the former Queen of R&B reclaim her crown after dealing with the devil for so long? It’s much more of a human interest story than it is a musical one.

What is immediately surprising, as revealed about halfway into opener “Million Dollar Bill,” is the lack of air-brushing on Houston’s clearly weathered voice. (The photo on the album cover is most likely an entirely different story, however.) The drug battles have obviously diminished Houston’s superhuman instrument, but the abundant studio trickery available to a project with a budget like this one was not employed in hopes of covering up the wrinkles. Immediately, this lends an honesty to the affair.

For a good while, this is enough to carry “I Look To You” forward. That it ultimately collapses beneath the weight of its own attempts to recapture the grandiose balladry that made Houston huge in the late ’80s and early ’90s is not surprising. Perhaps it’s enough that Houston managed to get it together, relearn her craft and get back into the recording studio. Expecting her to reinvent the wheel that gave her a ride to the “topermost of the popermost” might be too much to expect.

So the cheese abounds, folks, and it’s the thick and gooey variety. Way bogus drum machine sounds, flaccid percussion loops, syrupy strings and synths that burp and giggle like a Pac Man game gone wild are the order of the day. It doesn’t really need saying that Houston’s virtuosic, gospel-based singing would’ve greatly benefited from an even slightly more organic approach. But I’ll say it anyway.

Interestingly, this tendency doesn’t really make the album sound too particularly dated, since modern production techniques favor the ’80s-throwback approach, from Mariah Carey to Fergie and back again. So Houston is clearly making a grab for the contemporary Diva tiara, the one hard living caused her to lose her grip on a decade back.

“Million Dollar Bill” was written by Alicia Keys, and the younger singer’s influence is all over that song, as well as many of the best of the rest of them. Disco-fied soul with a touch of gospel, “Bill” is buoyant secular sex music, but Houston doesn’t get all Lady GaGa gross on us— “class” is the watchword here. Houston is asserting herself as a sensual woman who can be coy about sexuality, avoiding the explicit in favor of the much more alluring implicit approach. Nearly everyone in the modern Diva class could and should take a page from Houston’s manual in this regard.

Like Joni Mitchell — and this is the only way she’s like Joni Mitchell, let’s be clear — the dissolution of Houston’s once bell-like, octave-leaping voice into a huskier, occasionally strained tone has granted her entry into an entirely different VIP party, one where life experience trumps good looks. Hear it in her cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” which begins as a plaintive ballad arranged with bountiful space for Houston’s vocal. That she’s not the vocal gymnast she once was turns out to be a good thing; now, she favors emotion over technique, and is thus much more sexy than shrill. Houston sounds like a woman, not a boy-toy.

Sometimes, the completely naked attempts to make the singer “hip” are cringe-inducing.

But on balance, “I Look To You” is an honest album, one that forgoes the urge to “hiphopify” an older artist in order to market her to a younger crowd. It’s a strong, fun, often buoyant and deliciously pretense-free R&B album. And it’s more than nice to hear that beautiful voice working its magic again.

Three out of four Stars
CD Review
Whitney Houston I Look To You [Arista]

New York Newsday: Whitney tries a comeback with 'I Look to You'
August 28, 2009 By GLENN GAMBOA

Whitney Houston used to sound invincible.

Those songs she did as part of "The Bodyguard," still the bestselling soundtrack in history, may have been about breakups and self-doubt, but they sounded like they came from a woman at the top of the world and at the top of her game. Her booming voice radiated power and elegant confidence, a masterful combination as rare and as stunning as a shooting star.

Obviously, that couldn't last - she feel back to earth years ago.

The Houston of today - who Monday releases at age 46 her first album in seven years, her much-trumpeted "comeback," "I Look to You" (Arista) - is a shadow of her former self. That's not a crack about her much-talked-about weight loss or drug abuse. It's not a veiled jab about her tumultuous divorce from Bobby Brown. It's, unfortunately, the impression you get from listening to her new album.

"I Look to You" isn't a bad album - like, say, 2002's desperate, unfocused "Just Whitney" - but it is neither artistically strong like 1998's "My Love Is Your Love" nor an outright commercial smash like her early work. It is (gasp!) kind of ordinary.

The title track outlines the problem. Written by R. Kelly, "I Look to You" is the type of pop ballad that should be right in Houston's wheelhouse, but she kind of fouls it off. Her gifts have always been in phrasing and power, and none of that shows here. Her delivery is pretty but plodding, and while she hits some big notes, they don't really build to anything or provide any emotional payoff. They are big for big's sake, seemingly added because that's what's expected of her. Instead of inspiration, they deliver an emptiness that doesn't help the song connect and, as a result, the single didn't catch on with fans or radio stations, spending only one week at No. 74 before falling off the charts.

The second single "Million Dollar Bill," a midtempo dance track with a disco feel written by Alicia Keys and produced by Swizz Beatz, will likely fare better, though it highlights the album's other problem. Houston is not just another singer. In fact, part of the reason she has been criticized far more intensely through her struggles with drug use and her marital difficulties is because her natural ability is so obvious. When talent is as close as it gets to divine, the public is not patient when it looks like a gift that grand is being squandered.

"Million Dollar Bill" is a good song, but it would have sounded essentially the same coming from any number of singers, from Keri Hilson to Celine Dion. Over the years, Houston has made her songs far more distinctive than this or the equally pleasant Stargate production "Call You Tonight" or her duet with Akon on "Like I Never Left." The lack of her indelible vocal signature on these songs raises some questions about how strong she really is at the moment.

On "I Look to You," the glimpses of Houston's former glory come at unexpected times. Her take on Leon Russell's "A Song for You," which breezes through the Donny Hathaway version into a club anthem and back again, is a great surprise in the vein of "I'm Every Woman."

But the song that suggests that Houston's future will be brighter than her recent past is "Salute," also written by R. Kelly, which recaptures the street vibe she was cultivating on "My Love Is Your Love" and delivers the kind of verses her fans have been waiting for. She calls herself "a soldier girl" and playfully offers a kiss-off "salute," as well as quoting LL Cool J's "Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years" line. "Took me all of these years to realize that you don't belong here," she sings with a fire that isn't matched elsewhere on the album. "You say I'll never do better? Yeah, right. Whatever."

"Salute" is what Houston sounds like when she's connected to a song and firing on all cylinders. It's imaginative and dramatic and, yeah, it has an air of invincibility. It's also the kind of song that her true "comeback" album will be built around. "I Look to You" isn't it.

Whitney Houston albums: The high and low notes

THE HITS "You Give Good Love," "Saving All My Love for You," "How Will I Know," "The Greatest Love of All"
THE STORY Almost too good to be true. The daughter of Cissy Houston and goddaughter of Aretha Franklin has model looks, a once-in-a-lifetime voice and legendary music exec Clive Davis helping launch her debut.
SALES 13 million
THE DRAMA None. Remember when that was the case with Whitney?

WHITNEY (1987)
THE HITS "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional," "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," "Love Will Save the Day"
THE STORY Her pop proves powerful, with four No. 1 hits, giving her a record-setting seven consecutive chart-toppers. She challenges Michael Jackson and Madonna for international acclaim.
SALES 9 million
THE DRAMA Some claim she has sold out her gospel/R&B roots. At the Soul Train Awards in 1989, she gets booed.

THE HITS "I'm Your Baby Tonight," "All the Man That I Need," "My Name Is Not Susan"
THE STORY Whitney gets a bit more street, but perhaps makes her biggest splash with her memorable version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Super Bowl during the Gulf War.
SALES 4 million
THE DRAMA She starts dating Bobby Brown.

THE HITS "I Will Always Love You," "I'm Every Woman," "I Have Nothing," "Run to You," "Queen of the Night"
THE STORY Though the acting was debatable, the soundtrack to "The Bodyguard" was an unprecedented success, as "I Will Always Love You" became the longest-running No. 1 single at the time, and the album became the biggest-selling soundtrack and 12th-biggest album ever.
SALES 17 million
THE DRAMA She marries Bobby Brown on July 18, 1992.

THE HITS "My Love Is Your Love," "It's Not Right But It's OK," "Heartbreak Hotel," "When You Believe," "I Learned From the Best"
THE STORY After successful acting turns in "Waiting to Exhale" and "The Preacher's Wife," Houston returns to recording full time with her most current-sounding album ever, mixing reggae and dance with her pop ballads.
SALES 4 million
THE DRAMA The rumors of drug use start when Houston starts canceling concerts and high-profile appearances, including getting fired from the Oscars in 2000, months after airport security in Hawaii discovers marijuana in her luggage and in Brown's luggage.

THE HITS Remixes of "Love That Man" and "Try It on My Own" top the dance chart, but no pop successes.
THE STORY Billed as a comeback from all the turmoil, it becomes her first outright flop.
SALES 1 million
THE DRAMA In the campaign leading to the album's release, she famously tells Diane Sawyer, "Crack is cheap - I make too much money to ever smoke crack," but admits to doing cocaine and smoking marijuana.


St Petersburg Times: Houston tackles her demons on new CD

By SEAN DALY, August 28, 2009

Whitney Houston turned 46 this month which is like 106 for someone who was married to Bobby Brown. In the past decade, the mezzo-soprano from Newark, N.J., went from using Mariah as an ottoman to being a sad, scary has-been cackling “Crack is wack!” to a wide-eyed Diane Sawyer on network TV.

Poor Whit: I bet not a sobering day has passed when Aretha Franklin's goddaughter hasn't diva-dreamed of her Bodyguard-ing reign in the '80s and '90s.

So it makes sense emotionally, artistically, commercially that her new album, “I Look to You,” has no real interest in advancing modern music. And you know what? Good for her.

Such contemporary popsters as Alicia Keys, Akon and R. Kelly help out on Houston's seventh platter (and first in some seven years). But with longtime Svengali Clive Davis by her side, she has instead decided to live in a world of silly-fun '80s dance songs and strong uncluttered ballads. Houston is also intent on showing a new nation of American Idols that singing and caterwauling are two different things. “Don't call it a comeback,” she teases, nodding to old pal LL Cool J. “I've been here for years.”

The album which is half good, half forgettable, but never lame isn't in stores until Monday. But all 11 new tracks are streaming live on whitneyhouston.com. Listen for yourself: Although the singer appears tired on the album's cover (seriously, Bobby Brown will consume your life force faster than Cher), she sings of tackling her demons with a refreshing clarity.

Her highs aren't quite as high anymore; and that famously throaty low is now an awkward, drag-queen husky. But on first single Million Dollar Bill, a retro dancer penned by Keys and produced by Swizz Beatz, Houston lets it all hang out at the song's end but without great glops of digital trickery. It's a helluva moment, and it reminds you that for all her tabloid trappings, she's still a fabu singer with stellar control and phrasing.

Although the album's second half loses its catch, and the slimy Akon is a buzzkill, there are nice singles to be discovered. Stargate, the Norwegian producers who made Beyonce's “Irreplaceable” a smash, give Whit the mid-tempo humper Call You Tonight. A cover of Leon Russell's “A Song for You” starts in a jazz club, ends in a disco. And there are two yowza ballads: the David Foster-produced, Diane Warren-penned “I Didn't Know My Own Strength” (“Lost sight of my dream / Thought it would be the end of me”) and the R. Kelly-scripted, God-infused title track (“As I lay me down / Heaven hear me now / I'm lost without a cause”).

Houston tried a few “comeback” albums during her troubled times, but there was always a level of insincerity, of trying too hard to be hip, of false confidence to each. Something was wrong, and we knew it. But this is a far more humble, and thus more confident, product. And maybe that's reason to believe she's actually healthy this time. And why not root for Whitney Houston? In this day and age of prefab pop tripe and computer-dependent hack jobs, we need all the real singers we can get.


Access Hollywood: On the Download - Whitney Houston's 'I Look To You'
By Jeremy Blacklow

BURBANK, Calif. -- It’s been seven long years since Whitney Houston last came out with a new full-length studio album – 11 years since she’s put out a decent one. Hers is the comeback that pop culture fans (myself, chief amongst them) have been waiting for most since the 2007 return of Britney Spears.

And now, finally… through all of the obstacles she has faced, one of the greatest divas of the music industry is back with “I Look To You.” The album (in stores Monday, August 31) is a carefully crafted cautious compilation of tracks, put together by none other than her personal mentor and guru, Clive Davis.

So on to the question that everyone is asking – Is it any good?

The answer: Yes.

To Listen To Whitney’s New Album Stream On Her Web Site, CLICK HERE.

Is it great of the magnitude of “The Bodyguard” soundtrack, “Whitney Houston” and “Whitney”?

Not really, but albums like the aforementioned are few & far between.

So let’s break it down.

First, there is the standout track: Whitney’s remake of “A Song For You.” This is the album’s magnum opus. Of course, it’s a remake. First written in 1970 by Leon Russell, the song has been covered famously by everyone from Donny Hathaway and The Carpenters, to Michael Buble and Christina Aguilera. Fans of “American Idol” will remember this track as covered by Elliott Yamin in Season Five, and again during the first audition by this past season’s winner, Kris Allen. Whitney herself performed it for troops returning from the Gulf War in 1991.

But the song heads in a completely different direction in the recording for this album, and it works. Starting slow, and ending upbeat, the track soars into a beautiful crescendo with powerful backing vocals that lifts you up out of your chair and invites you to clap your hands in joy. It is a borderline “great” cover.

Next, the ballads: There are two great soaring ballads on this album - the title track and “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” (penned by Diane Warren), the latter of which was reportedly supposed to have been the lead single.

For me, “Strength” is the stronger of the two. It is the song that truly addresses the “comeback” principal of this album. With lyrics like, “And I crashed down, and I tumbled, But I did not crumble,” it feels like Whitney is speaking honestly to her fans. It’s genuine and it connects. It has the bigger of the big notes – which Whitney hits on both of these tracks. Together, these two songs are beautiful ballads about overcoming adversity and hardship, and they represent the message which Whitney sets out to convey.

Then there are the “pretty good” mid-tempo jams, including: Lead single, “Million Dollar Bill,” “Nothin’ But Love,” “Call You Tonight” and “Like I Never Left” (feat. Akon). All are fun tracks, and all could be released as singles. The only one of this batch that I think has a prospect of making an impact at radio however, is the latter; due to the presence of featured duet partner du jour Akon. “Call You Tonight” might be the album’s hidden gem. It has the most contemporary feel to it, and could easily have been sung by a Mary J. Blige or a Rihanna.

“Bill” (written by Alicia Keys and produced by Swizz Beatz) is a fun track, but it doesn’t make your dance in the “How Will I Know” or “So Emotional” sense of things. It’s got a great melody and a fun retro-R&B feel to the music. It’s a good leadoff single, but it won’t get young folks excited to run off to iTunes to buy Whitney’s new jam.

The last four tracks on the album, also all mid-tempo, feel generic and a bit like album filler. Although, “Worth It” has a nice hook to it, and “For The Lovers” is a fun little ditty that is growing on me with each listen.

By playing it safe on “I Look To You,” Whitney will assure herself a problem-free re-entry into the music industry. Marketed the right way, “A Song For You” or “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” could make huge waves. The dance remixes, no doubt already on their way for many of the tracks, are sure to be stellar.

The Recording Academy will certainly take interest when Grammy nominations come around this year. But in a weak music sales climate, will the fans spend money to buy this album?

Upcoming September promotional appearances on “Good Morning America” (September 2) and “Oprah” (September 14) should help. And Whitney’s built-in fan base has certainly never deserted her. But the question remains: can she convert over the younger generation?

If You Download One Song, Make It: “A Song For You”

Boston Herald: Whitney Houston: Stars join Whitney on new ‘Look’ disc

By Lauren Carter, Sunday, August 30, 2009

“I Look To You” (Arista/RCA): B

On “Salute,” the final song off her first album in seven years, once-reigning pop diva Whitney Houston calls up LL Cool J’s classic line to clarify her status: “Don’t call it a comeback,” she sings. “I’ve been here for years.”

Quotable rap lines aside, though, this is absolutely a comeback - and for those more interested in Houston’s vocal exploits than her tabloid-worthy adventures, one that’s long overdue.

For most of this decade, Houston has been on the career derailment program: The staggering tally of awards and No. 1 hits stopped coming, the seemingly infallible voice fell silent - for musical purposes anyway - and the carefully constructed good girl image crumbled amidst a whirlwhind of drug allegations and marital troubles with ex-hubby and hometown r & b product Bobby Brown.

So “I Look To You” is as much about artistry as damage control, putting Houston’s troubled past to bed and placing her squarely back on the music map. If it doesn’t wow, it at least succeeds in that endeavor.

Houston enlists top talent to helm her return to the spotlight and provide a cushion for her now-limited vocals. Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz co-produce opening track “Million Dollar Bill” - no, it’s not Houston’s foray into rap music, but a disco-laced throwback reminiscent of A Taste of Honey’s “Boogie Oogie Oogie.”

Timbaland protege Danja co-produces the stellar, club-ready “Nothin’ But Love,” which finds Houston taking the high road with haters and reprises the club groove that begs to become Houston’s niche on the irresistible “For the Lovers.” The R. Kelly-penned “Salute” - a kiss-off to a no-longer-needed lover who shall remain nameless - doesn’t quite deliver on its lyrical swagger, but at least shows signs of life.

Norwegian production dynamos Stargate contribute their predictably subdued bounce on the budding romance tale “Call You Tonight,” as well as the techno-inspired cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” while Akon lends a hand on a pair of tracks, including the breezy duet “Like I Never Left.”

The ballad lineup boasts the Diane Warren drama rundown “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” for which Houston calls up all the angst she can muster. Which, compared to the Houston of yore, isn’t all that much.

In the end, Houston’s sixth album is as much about forward strides as limitations. While it unites a collection of power players to breathe new life into her career - and proves that Houston is still capable of having a career - many of the songs shun urgency and power in favor of safety.

No, Houston hasn’t reclaimed her throne - yet. For those who thought the end was near, consider this a new beginning. Download: “Nothin’ But Love.”


Winnipeg Sun: Look who's back!
By DARRYL STERDAN, 30th August 2009

Comeback of the year. Or belly-flop of the year. There's no middle ground for Whitney Houston.

The troubled diva -- who has free-fallen from chart-topping singer to late-night punchline in recent years -- is attempting the mother of all returns with her sixth album, I Look to You, her first new CD since 2002. Will it save her career or seal her fate? Let's consider both sides.

The upside:

1) Everybody loves a comeback;
2) The disc was shepherded by music biz legend Clive Davis, who has enough muscle to shove it into the charts;
3) It was written and produced by heavyweights such as Alicia Keys, R. Kelly, Akon, Diane Warren and David Foster;
4) Houston is embarking on a full-court promotional tour, including an Oprah appearance;
5) The album comes out tomorrow instead of Tuesday, so it can be eligible for this year's Grammys -- where it's likely to garner a slew of noms;
6) The CD ignores trends and returns Whitney to her wheelhouse of lightweight '80s R&B and bombastic ballads;
7) Houston still has those powerhouse pipes.

The downside:

1) The title cut and first single stalled at No. 74 on the charts -- not exactly a stellar debut;
2) Houston is 46 -- a little long in the tooth to tap into the youth market that drives the industry;
3) The CD's old-school vibe could be seen as dated instead of a return to form;
4) None of these understated songs possess the undeniable stopping power of I Will Always Love You;
5) That publicity campaign can collapse from one bad interview -- remember "Crack is wack"?

History will be the final judge; meanwhile, here's my verdict on the tunes:

Million Dollar Bill 3:24
Keys penned this bouncy R&B single built from a funky bassline and swirly keyboards. Houston indulges her playful pop side while warming up with a few big notes.

Nothin' But Love 3:35
It starts with synth notes -- but since the online distribution service that SonyBMG uses barely works on my Mac, I can't hear more of the song than that. Sorry.

Call You Tonight 4:08
Sweet arpeggios, a shimmery swooping melody and a classic beatbox set the stage for a mellow dollop of midtempo soul produced by Stargate.

I Look To You 4:25
This God-loving piano-and-strings ballad slowly swells from a bare-bones opening to a stirring crescendo -- but without going over the top. Nicely restrained.

Like I Never Left 3:49
Akon delivers the disc's only guest spot on an understatedly funk-pop duet. It's nice, but somebody who could match her vocally would have been a better choice.

A Song for You 4:11
It starts as another piano ballad -- but midway through, this cover of a Leon Russell oldie transforms into gently pumping synth-funk.

I Didn't Know My Own Strength 3:40
Diane Warren wrote this self-empowerment ballad. David Foster produced (and orchestrated, presumably). Amazingly, it's not as shmaltzy as you'd expect.

Worth It 4:39
Another laid-back midtempo groover, with Whitney singing, "I know somebody's gonna make love to this song tonight." Thanks for the visual.

For the Lovers 4:14
Laced with clickety percussion, buzzy synths and breathy vocal injections, this has a Michael Jackson-circa-Off the Wall feel.

I Got You 4:12
Whitney's proclaims her undying love over a thumpy slow-burning beat decorated with pulsing strings and layered backup vocals.

Salute 4:10
"Don't call it a comeback," orders Whitney on this lush midtempo closer from R. Kelly. "I've been here for years." Yeah, but reality TV doesn't count, honey.

Sun Rating: 3 out of 5



Toronto Star: Whitney Houston's back, at lower power

Houston's comeback bid starts tomorrow with an album loaded with big-name help. Ashante Infantry wishes it was vintage Voice
Aug 30, 2009
Ashante Infantry, Entertainment Reporter

Whitney Houston
I Look To You (Arista/Sony)
(2.5 out of 4)

The release tomorrow of Whitney Houston's seventh album, I Look To You is being heralded as a major comeback. Its significance is a matter of perspective:

Six years since her last recording, the forgettable One Wish: The Christmas Album.

Seven years since the "crack is wack" comment during a Diane Sawyer interview promoting Just Whitney.

Eight years since the New Jersey native's skeletal appearance and clumsy performance at the concert celebrating Michael Jackson's 30th anniversary as a solo artist.

Nine years since being dropped from the Oscars, ostensibly for a sore throat, but unofficially for erratic behaviour during rehearsals.

10 years since she earned her last (and sixth) Grammy, for "It's Not Alright But It's Okay."

Perhaps the most important measure of Houston's decline is that you have to go back to 1990 to find her atop Billboard's decisive Hot 100 Chart, for "All the Man That I Need" and "I'm Your Baby Tonight."

Fact is, "The Voice" behind the 1985 debut – the most successful ever by a female artist, having sold 13 million copies – hasn't been a contender in nearly two decades.

With questions about the singer's drug-addled past and divorce from Bobby Brown certain to distract, Houston, 46, isn't doing much publicity for the new album which was originally due in 2007 and she isn't scheduled to tour. Tuesday, she performs in Central Park for Good Morning America and is slated for a sit down on The Oprah Winfrey Show's Sept. 14 season premiere.

A heavy push from Arista (confident enough to have brought the album forward a day to meet the deadline for Grammy consideration) and the beneficence of Mariah Carey's disc being delayed means I Look To You has a good shot at opening at No. 1.

But is it worthy?

Houston's executive producer and longtime guru Clive Davis assembled a fine cast of contemporary and old school hitmakers for the album with mixed results.

Didn't think I wanted to hear a duet ("Like I Never Left") that opens with Akon crooning "Akon and Whitney, yeah;" and I was right. Their voices aren't complimentary enough to bridge the generation gap and the break-up to makeup lyrics are a yawn. Similarly, the new-jack, Eric Hudson-produced "Worth It" which contains the line "I know somebody's gonna make love to this song tonight" is a slick, feathery track better suited to Mariah or Ciara. On the other hand, Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz deliver the disc's strongest tune, lead single "Million Dollar Bill," an upbeat, feel-good anthem with a vintage R&B bassline.

Meanwhile, vets Diane Warren and David Foster provide the album's centrepiece, "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" a beautifully written and arranged, piano-driven inspirational that indirectly references Houston's tumultuous past with the lyrics "Survived my darkest hour/My faith kept me alive/I picked myself back up/Hold my head up high."

But poignancy and humility have replaced the strength and strut Houston once brought to sweeping ballads like that. She doesn't soar as high or as long, so the payoff isn't as big as it was on '90s gems like "I Will Always Love You," "I'm Every Woman" and "I Have Nothing."

That's not necessarily a detriment: though weathered, her vocals are still distinct and pleasing and she's more emotive now – evidenced by the first few bars of the "A Song For You" cover, which sadly degenerates into a dance mix.

It's the music that does Houston a disservice. She was better paired with live instrumentation, staying in her lane with richly spare, slow and mid-tempo offerings, instead of the mod, Rihanna-friendly electro-pop programming that's rife throughout.

The disc ends with the triumphant R. Kelly penned/produced "Salute" that finds Houston declaring "Don't call it a comeback, no, I been here for years." Not exactly, but at least she got to make the attempt that Michael Jackson didn't.


New York Times: Earning Diva Cred With Storm and Stress
Published: August 30, 2009, WHITNEY HOUSTON, “I Look to You” , (Arista)

Without adversity, a diva is just a singer. It’s the back story, the tale of struggle and tenacity, that draws audiences to read more than musicianship into her performances. The singer touches on something personal so the listener can feel like a witness, a confidant, a judge, a voyeur, or perhaps all at once. Seven years after her last album of pop songs, two years after her divorce, Whitney Houston re-emerges with full diva qualifications on “I Look to You,” released Monday. Most of its revelations aren’t verbal; they’re in the husky, vehement sound of her voice.

Ms. Houston started her career as a goody two shoes with a glorious vocal instrument. On her 1985 debut album she sang about innocence, love, loyalty and dignity as her voice catapulted through purrs and rasps, pop brightness and soul-gospel flourishes. (That album’s cover showed her in a white, draped dress, with one shoulder bared; so does the cover of “I Look to You.”) She might have become her generation’s defining soul singer in an era not dominated by the rough and tumble of hip-hop.

Then came her turbulent marriage to and divorce from Bobby Brown (with a reality-TV show flaunting its tensions), shaky public performances like her skin-and-bones appearance at a 2001 Michael Jackson tribute, her admitted drug use and her long absence from pop after her 2002 album, “Just Whitney.” (She released a Christmas album, “One Wish,” in 2003.)

She hasn’t been forgotten. As she did in 2002 — when she told Diane Sawyer on “Primetime” that she had used alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and pills with a terse “at times” — Ms. Houston will promote her new album with a television interview that should be a ratings bonanza: the season opener of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on Sept. 14.

“Just Whitney” was a bristling, defensive album. It lashed out at media coverage “trying to dirty up Whitney’s name” and adamantly touted her marriage and her man. “I Look to You,” with Ms. Houston’s longtime mentor Clive Davis as her co-producer, is more subdued, canny and cautious. She still sings about the power of love, though it’s not always benign anymore. The album is split between songs that hint at her travails and songs that try to ignore them, like the lightweight, Motown-tinged first single, “Million Dollar Bill,” written and produced by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz.

The title song, written by R. Kelly, harks back to Ms. Houston’s heyday, only to reveal how much she has changed. Like “I Will Always Love You,” the Dolly Parton song that became Ms. Houston’s signature hit in 1992, “I Look to You” is a gospel-rooted ballad that builds up to a vow of devotion before humbly tapering off.

In 1992 she sounded tearful but clear and airborne, making triumphant octave-wide upward leaps. “I Look to You” is a prayer, a desperate appeal to faith: “After all my strength is gone, in you I can be strong.” Now her voice is thicker and lower, and her improvisatory phrases are shorter. They curve downward as if tugged by gravity, making her approachable, even sympathetic.

Ms. Houston’s back story also infuses the upbeat, electronic “Nothin’ but Love,” which promises love to “even the ones who tried to break me,” and a hymnlike Diane Warren song, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” which aims to become an inspirational diva standard: “I crashed down and I tumbled, but I did not crumble/I got through all the pain.” The album’s final song, also by R. Kelly, is “Salute,” a sparsely arranged minor-key breakup song that jeers, “You say I’ll never do better/Yeah, right, whatever.”

For danceable tracks, the album draws on other current hit makers, including Fernando Garibay, Stargate and Nathaniel Hills (a k a Danja). And Ms. Houston collaborates with the producer and singer Akon on midtempo songs promising reconciliation — with a man, but also, perhaps, with the audience that now listens to Beyoncé, Keyshia Cole, Rihanna and Ledisi. At times, in the wistfully insinuating “Like I Never Left,” her voice is nearly indistinguishable from Akon’s computer-tuned croon. She’s tentatively climbing back into the pop machinery, no longer invincible but showing a diva’s determination. JON PARELES

New York Post: Houston, Here's Hoping We No Longer Have A Problem

By Sport Murphy, Posted: 12:07 am, August 30, 2009

IN 2007, when the record business -- like Whitney Houston's image -- had disintegrated to a mere smudge of its former market grandeur, expectations were low but hopes high as aged pop Clive Davis announced that Whitney was working on her first album in several long years. Initially slated for release last fall, that album, "I Look to You," stands ready for release on Tuesday. It's Houston's first new album since 2002, when she released "Just Whitney," a decent seller but her only collection with no Top 40 singles.

There's no question that the power and flexibility of her instrument have been diminished, with most flaws exaggerated, not disguised, by multitake editing, overdub overkill and auto-tune enhancement. Yet somehow, through the mire of desperation that such production touch-ups reveal, the sound of a mature singer can be detected, grit and rasp adding texture to her still-fairly-shimmering voice.

Associates like Akon and the ever-yukky David Foster work hard to gussy up recreations of Houston's classic sound with contemporary sonic spackle. Tunes -- by the likes of song-hack zillionairess Diane Warren -- offer "shout outs" to the "playas on the street"; birds flipped to "the haters"; gratitude to the faithful; defiant denials that this is a "comeback"; and the customary "g'wan, beat it" breakup rant.

It's easy to wonder, along the way, what Houston would do with the kind of real song a grown woman of formidable ability and experience could truly sink her teeth into. Then comes her version of Leon Russell's wrenching ballad "A Song For You," jacked up to dance tempo like a cut-rate "I Will Survive" and sung as if the lyrics are nothing but another all-purpose shout-out.

Still, there are tracks to admire here. "Million Dollar Bill," written for Houston by Alicia Keys, is an optimistic dance number that calls up a bit of '70s Philly soul, as well as a strong dose of early Whitney flavor, without sounding retro. Lyrical references to "new beginnings" seem unforced, and the track's youthful spirit complements Whitney's somewhat timeworn pipes in a way the rest of the album could badly use.

The first single, "I Look to You," is understated and melodic, a surprise given that it was written by R. Kelly. The song trusts Houston's singing to deliver the emotion, never force-feeding the listener with cynical stunts. As expected, given the quality of the material, Houston shines.

Not that it matches the strength of her 1985 debut when Whitney, still in her early 20s, arrived as peer and challenger to such distinguished company as Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin. Her powerhouse vocal chops turned "How Will I Know" and "Saving All My Love for You" into instant hits.

The latter tune's sophisticated swing illustrates what made Houston a star: bright, unaffected innocence matched with enough smoldering eroticism to stoke the libido of the masses. Guided by Davis, she kept 'em coming, one multiplatinum album after another.

When Houston took her first major acting role in 1992's "The Bodyguard," her career hit its high-water mark -- if her acting was unremarkable, her beauty and charisma sold beaucoup tickets to that silly flick, as well as 12 million copies worldwide of her cover of Dolly Parton's tormented aria "I Will Always Love You." The soundtrack album itself sold 42 million units.

By then, however, as if to fulfill some eternal, tragic Icarus schematic, Houston had married goofball former New Edition star Bobby Brown. This -- possibly even more than the schmaltz-sodden influence of "Bodyguard" soundtrack producer David Foster -- proved an ill omen indeed.

Roles in films such as "Waiting to Exhale" proved Houston capable of sustaining a credible acting career, just as hits like a remake of Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman" kept the music biz fat and happy. But gradually her alleged drug-laden shenanigans with hubby Brown eclipsed her talent. Erratic performances, an infamous "crack is wack" Diane Sawyer interview and a catastrophic reality series based around the couple's home life sealed the image of Houston as a dismal narco-casualty.

The coverage was predictably cruel, with Houston's personal problems and career setbacks becoming a running gag everywhere from "The Soup" to TMZ. Although it seems mockery has overtaken all respect for her artistry, it's worth noting that on "American Idol" -- that monument to everything ready-made, ephemeral and empty in pop -- fame-hungry kids routinely audition with versions of Houston's classic slice of empowerment cheese, "The Greatest Love of All." The creepy biz-bots who serve as judges often caution that they are "trying to fill very big shoes," dimly recalling the time and the reason Houston was so beloved.

Much is made of the gritty rasp that has replaced the once-golden pipes. They said that about Sinatra way back when he really started hitting his stride, too.

With "I Look to You," Houston shows that she's still a fine singer, perhaps even a commercial one. But somewhere long untapped is an artist who can still do something great. Let's hope she does it -- next time.


The Washington Times: LISTENING STATION: Whitney Houston looks to you
Album ends her drug-era, Brown decline

By Jenny Mayo, 31 August 2009

Whitney Houston
I Look to You

For the most part, people used to listen to Whitney Houston albums for one reason: that singular, gospel-trained mezzo-soprano; the voice that launched 1,000 "American Idol" wannabes. But since the singer's descent into pop music purgatory this decade, many are tuning into her latest release to hear something else — signs of a comeback.

Happily, it appears that "I Look to You," the pop diva's first album in seven years, marks the end of her "crack is whack" era. Ex-husband and reality-show co-star Bobby Brown is out of the picture. Miss Houston looks healthier than she has in years. Her instrument seems fairly sound, and this new release isn't bad (more than we can say for her last, 2002's "Just Whitney").

"I Look to You" reunites Miss Houston with her mentor and svengali, music mogul Clive Davis, and enlists a cadre of modern-day hit-makers, like R. Kelly and Akon. The disc's 11 tracks bounce from up-tempo retro to breezy, contemporary R&B, from soulful techno to lyrical, hip-hop-tinged soul — and, of course, no Whitney Houston CD would be complete without power ballads.

The songwriters fashion a protagonist who's able to acknowledge past troubles, if abstractly. Miss Houston sings of "regret," "pain" and "winter storms," but she also boasts of her power to move beyond it all. In the tune "Nothin' But Love," the chanteuse triumphantly chants, "Ain't got nothin' but love … to anyone who tried to hate on me … to all my exes that done wronged me, stepped on me, can't hold me down."

Yet despite all the strength she references in the lyrics, the songs themselves don't have the force of Miss Houston's best prior efforts. This new disc is a solid attempt to get the voice back on charts and into hearts (and maybe win a few Grammys), but there's nothing here with the explosive, pure pop energy of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" (from 1987's "Whitney"), the seething, contemporary bite of "Heartbreak Hotel" (1998's "My Love Is Your Love"), or the goose-bump quotient of "I Will Always Love You" (1992's "Bodyguard" soundtrack).

One of "I Look to You's" biggest delights, though, is its opener, "Million Dollar Bill." Centering on a man who makes a gal feel really good, this is a celebratory, estrogen-fueled dance ditty produced by Swizz Beatz and R&B diva-ette Alicia Keys (and written by the latter) — and, man, is it catchy! However, Miss Keys' mark is more than obvious, and that may be part of the problem. This youthful cut sounds like something borrowed from one of Miss Keys' albums.

Another bright spot, the album closer, "Salute," asserts Miss Houston as a "soldier girl" who "made it through"; spewing raw aggression through its midtempo, piano-laden, hip-hop-infused swagger. But this R. Kelly-penned and -produced tune is awfully reminiscent of Brandy. Ditto for one of Akon's contributions, "Like I Never Left," which tries on a little of the Janet Jackson/Kanye West "My Baby" vibe.

"A Song for You" is literally on loan from Leon Russell. Here, it's a techno-fied remake of the classic soul ballad that just makes us hunger for Donny Hathaway's pure, sparse version, which tingles with piano-key trills and big, pure vocals, rather than numbing with synth pulses and claps.

And herein lies the major flaw in "I Look to You." Miss Houston is an artist who can — or at least used to — make songs untouchable ("The Star Spangled Banner" will never be the same). Yet even after the voice has tackled this collection of cuts (a couple that are actually pretty forgettable), you get the feeling that many of them could go on to have happy lives in a number of other performers' oeuvres. Is it because Miss Houston has lost her touch? Eh, it seems to be more of an issue with the material.

For a taste of that old Whitney magic, though, click on "I Didn't Know My Own Strength." An empowering, gospel-tinged ballad, it gives the artist a chance to show she's still got the pipes (even if they are noticeably huskier) and yields a powerful, personal message of survival.

"I Look to You" may not be one of Ms. Houston's finest albums, but it's a fine moment for her. When, toward the end of the record, she sings "I'm doing me," we believe that for the first time in a long time, she really is. You go, girl.


New York Daily News: Whitney Houston - Not quite the greatest voice of all, but still noteworthy
Jim Farber, Sunday, August 30th 2009

The first thing you notice about Whitney Houston's comeback-from-hell album isn't what's on it.

It's what's not.

As a hopeful bass line bounces in the background, Houston's barely accompanied voice pours from the speakers, as if to instantly argue that, despite seven years in ruinous exile, everything's fine in Whitney-ville.

Except that it obviously isn't - despite the many likeable and worthy moments housed in the 50 minutes of music to come.

Simply put, the voice we hear on "I Look To You" isn't the one that made millions of jaws drop, and caused scores of fellow singers to hanging up their mikes forever.

Make no mistake. Houston still owns an instrument most singers would kill for, with a broad range and a respectable force. And she gets to apply it to some catchy and pleasing new songs here. But there's no getting around the fact that something key is gone. Namely, her genius.

The tone of epic clarity, the lungs of steel, the notes that seemed to sail higher than any musical staf could hold - all those things are behind her now.

Houston sounds huskier and chestier on "I Look To You." A thicker tone has replaced her bell-like one. And, for the most part, she avoids most of the skyscraper notes she used to mount in her sleep.

Luckily, you can shave a lot off a singer of this power and still have plenty to work with. The producers and writers on board this time - from Alicia Keys to R. Kelly to Akon - made savvy use of that fact. Their songs make up for the lessening in Houston's wind by amping up their own. Even a classic, sentimental ballad like Leon Russell's "Song For You" gets treated to a hot disco/house beat, which makes it a real blast. But it's also a dodge. In Houston's Herculean/"I Will Always Love You" days, she would have raised a melody line like this to the sky alone, instead of letting the rhythm do some of the heavy lifting for her.

The music Houston chose for the album isn't quite like that on any CD she has cut before. That makes sense given both her long lay-off and the current, transitional world of R&B-pop. Instead of sounding trendy or retro, "I Look To You" boasts a timeless sound, full of well-formed pop.

Given such encouraging features, it may seem wrong to criticize a singer who still has more on the ball than most. It may seem even more unfair to compare the now 45 year old Houston to a far younger one - as if we rate singers in the cold, objective way we do athletes.

But the truth is, much of Houston's talent always was athletic. Her emotional range never matched her physical one. Which explains part of why Houston hasn't been able to use her new limitations to express the maturity and poignance many aging singers can.

It would have helped if, in the new lyrics, Houston admitted more of the pain she must gone through during her awful time away. But "I Look To You" isn't about making admissions or allowing vulnerability. It's about declaring endurance and asserting strength: emotions that stir us but don't bring us close. In the final number, "Salute," Houston won't even admit she's making a comeback at all, instead stooping to quote L.L. Cool J's classic line, by insisting she's "been here for years."

She hasn't been anything of the kind, of course, And until Houston can own up to that - both in her lyrics and, more importantly, in her delivery - she won't find a way to give her current self the new power it deserves.

Associated Press: Review: Whitney Houston delivers solid comeback CD
By NEKESA MUMBI MOODY, AP Music Writer, Monday, August 31, 2009

Whitney Houston, "I Look to You" (Arista)

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.

Houston Chronicle: Houston's latest proves the diva is in

Whitney Houston doesn't cover the pop classic I Will Survive on her new album. But themes of strength, challenge and triumph are laced throughout the songs on the just-released disc I Look To You.

This is her sixth studio album and first since 2002's underwhelming Just Whitney. It began streaming in its entirety last week on her Web site.

At her prime, Houston was an unrivaled talent whose lush, soaring vocals made her a pop princess and an R&B superstar. I Look To You arrives after much drama, with lots of baggage and amid momentous expectations. But it also rides a wave of almost universal good will from her fans, who just want their diva back on track.

They can rest easy. I Look To You picks up where 1998's My Love Is Your Love — still her best album — left off. It's an accessible, elegant and entertaining collection of slick pop-soul songs, diva ballads and uptempo R&B jams.

Clive Davis, who has shepherded most of Houston's career, doesn't force his prize pupil into ill-fitting tracks that pander to radio. He keeps her in the comfort zone, and nothing on the disc sounds like a throwaway. (It does, however, sound like a contender for an armload of 2010 Grammys.)

The wear and tear have shaved the pristine glow off Houston's once-astounding vocals. But time has proffered her delivery the stamp of experience, and the rasp that scratches against several songs gives them lyrical depth.

The wear and tear have shaved the pristine glow off Houston's once-astounding vocals. But time has proffered her delivery the stamp of experience, and the rasp that scratches against several songs gives them lyrical depth.

Kickoff track and lead single Million Dollar Bill rides a smooth-as-silk, retro-disco groove courtesy of Alicia Keys, who co-wrote and co-produced. It's the first of several songs that will likely be a mammoth club hit.

Nothin' but Love works the clubby pop magic that producer Fernando Garibay has spun on several hits for Enrique Iglesias and finds Houston letting go of her troubled past.

“I could hold on to pain but that ain't what my life's about/I ain't blamin' nobody if I ain't got my stuff worked out,” she sings. “I just wanna sing my song; ain't got nothin' but love.”

Go-to hit producers StarGate (Ne-Yo, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Jennifer Hudson) contribute Call You Tonight, one of the disc's most contemporary moments. And they strike gold by breathing new life into A Song For You. Houston's slow, soulful intro gives way to a pulsing techno swirl that adds urgency to her delivery. It's one of the album's best moments.

Akon duet Like I Never Left has an R&B spring in its step — and lyrics that again mirror Houston's life. (“Did you ever wish you could get back something that you did in your past? I realize that I've been foolish, I never should have turned my back.”) And Houston dubs herself a “souljah girl in this world” during R. Kelly's Salute, a gently shuffling kiss-off that should be a single.

It wouldn't be Whit-Whit, of course, without a few sparkling ballads, and she delivers a pair of those signature songs.

The title track is a hand-in-the-air ballad by Kelly, who, despite the seedy personal drama, knows how to craft an effective pop tune. Houston underplays instead of oversings (something she hasn't always done in the past).

I Didn't Know My Own Strength reteams Houston with Hallmark-y hitmakers Diane Warren and David Foster for an anthemic, over-the-top moment that recalls her Greatest Love heyday.

But this time, Houston's life experience infuses the lyrics — “Lost touch with my soul/I had nowhere to turn/I had nowhere to go/Lost sight of my dream/Thought it would be the end of me” — with a deeper meaning.

“I was not built to break,” Houston proclaims.

Welcome back, diva.

Lincoln Journal Star: Reviews: Houston's new release could salvage career
BY L. KENT WOLGAMOTT / Lincoln Journal Star | Posted: Monday, August 31, 2009

Whitney Houston, "I Look To You": On her first album in seven years, Whitney Houston tries, but doesn't entirely succeed, to overcome the tabloid-filling meltdown that has been her life of late. That said, "I Look To You" might be enough to salvage a career that appeared to be over.

Smartly, Houston and her producers don't try to reprise her '90s overblown gospel-based sound, going instead for a contemporary R&B/soul feel with more insistent beats and heavier production - an obvious effort at appealing to the Beyonce generation. At 46, Houston's voice is a little worse for wear. She doesn't quite soar on "I Didn't Know My Own Strength," the autobiographical number that's most like her biggest hits. But she handles the dance-oriented material well enough and nails the ballad title cut.

No obvious hits jump out of "I Look To You," but in coming into the 21st century, Houston shows she's still got some good music left. Grade: B

Digital Spy: Whitney Houston: 'I Look To You'
Released on Monday, October 12 2009
By Nick Levine, Music Editor

4 out of 5 Stars

Whitney Houston has a touch of the lioness about her on I Look To You's cover shot, an image that complements the music inside. Her first album since 2002 – since "crack is whack", her ill-advised appearance on Bobby Brown's reality show and their subsequent divorce – showcases a wiser, more dignified version of the singer we remember. Better believe she's still got a feisty side though. "Don't call this a comeback," she snaps on the album's final track, "I've been here for years."

And The Voice? Well, let's just say that this lioness growls more than she roars now. Put it down to age, or whatever she may or may not have been smoking over the last seven years, but Houston's instrument has changed. It's deeper now, the clarity of old replaced by huskiness, and nothing sounds quite as effortless as it once did. There are even hints of a croak on 'I Look To You' and 'I Didn't Know My Own Strength', the album's pair of classic Whitney power ballads.

Aside from these ballads, and an unexpectedly clubby cover of 'A Song For You', I Look To You sticks to midtempo. It doesn't try too hard to be hip – there are no rap cameos or Europop samples – but thanks to contributions from a clutch of au courant R&B producers, it does sound contemporary. Danja contributes a couple of synthy standouts ('Nothin' But Love', 'For The Lovers'), Stargate vary their usual formula by adding some country guitar to 'Call You Tonight', and Akon behaves like the perfect gentleman on 'Like I Never Left' and 'I Got You'. Even the title track, one of those old-fashioned power ballads, gets a bit of techno dressing from Tricky Stewart.

Its eleven tracks may showcase the talents of ten different producers or production teams, but I Look To You has a cohesion lacking in many late-noughties R&B albums. This is partly because its lyrics feature two recurring themes: the easy romance of lead single 'Million Dollar Bill' is revisited on 'Call You Tonight', 'Like I Never Left' and the lovely 'Worth It', and, well, did you really think Houston wouldn't sing about surviving? She was not built to break; she's a soldier girl and she can be strong; she's got nothin' but love for the haters.

The cohesion also comes from Houston herself. Her voice may not be as technically impressive at it was, but its new, more weathered tones have character, making an optimistic song like 'Million Dollar Bill' really quite touching and a defiant one like 'For The Lovers' more dramatic. If a little too steady to be called a classic, I Look To You is certainly an accomplished, enjoyable return – don't call it a comeback – from an artist who sounds keen again, a lioness who's rediscovered her pride. At this stage, that's more than most would have dared hope.


Melbourne Herald Sun: Whitney Houston on comeback trail with I Look to You

WHITNEY Houston's back, but is she better than ever? Her much-hyped comeback album has arrived, but how good is it? READ THE FIRST AUSTRALIAN REVIEW.

She's dumped the career-killing hubby, taken her own advice and realised crack is wack, and has the obligatory Oprah tell-some locked in.T

his comeback album, three years in the making, ticks all the boxes you'd expect. There are big ballads, modern R&B (but not too modern) and a few nods to the dance floor.

The lyricists must have been given a brief -- Whitney is a survivor not a victim, OK?

"I could hold on to pain but that ain't what my life's about," she sings on her I-love-everyone-even-the-haters ode Nothin' But Love, over beats courtesy Nate "Danja" Hills. "I ain't blamin' nobody if I ain't got my stuff worked out."

Middle-of-the-road dream team Diane Warren and David Foster serve up the dramatic anthem-in-waiting I Didn't Know My Own Strength -- more Oprah-style self-help lyrics: "I was not built to break . . . I crashed out and I tumbled, but I did not crumble . . . survived my darkest hour."

The Alicia Keys-penned single Million Dollar Bill is easily the most exciting moment here; Houston gets her '70s love groove on, sounding full of life for the first time in years.

The Akon duet Like I Never Left (one of only two Houston co-written tunes here) is a pleasant mid-tempo number.

R Kelly's title track is the chest-thumping, arm-waving ballad designed to be the next I Will Always Love You. It's not, but it's not as fist-gnawingly awful as some of the generic ballads Kelly has foisted on superstars.

A cover of A Song For You (once a hit for Donny Hathaway) has producers Stargate channelling The Bodyguard soundtrack with by-numbers dance beats.

Whitney gets saucy on Worth It ("I know somebody's going to make love to this song tonight") and for Bobby Brown bashing try the Rihanna-esque Salute: "You think that your s--- don't stink, well it do, took me all these years to realise that you don't belong here".

It's one of the many moments when you're waiting for the huge note, the vocal money shot that never arrives. Let's hope she's merely choosing not to hit those famous skyscraper-high notes these days. Otherwise, Houston, we have a problem. CA

The verdict: ***
In a word: strong


California Chronical: We 'Look' to Whitney for the Singer's First Album in 7 Years

By Patrick Ferrucci, New Haven Register, Conn.
Sep. 4--WHITNEY HOUSTON -- "I Look To You" (Arista): It feels like decades since pop diva Whitney Houston last released an album of new material. And while 2002's "Just Whitney" did, in fact, hit stores in a completely different time for music, seven years isn't that long ago.

Heck, it's not even the longest Houston's gone between records; it took her eight years to go from 1990's "I'm Your Baby Tonight" and 1998's "My Love Is Your Love." Of course, a lot more has happened to change the way we think about Houston this time around.

From her very public bouts with her personal demons, to her tabloid appearances to her embarrassing behavior on a Bravo reality show, to the media frenzy around the end of her marriage to drug-addled singer Bobby Brown, Houston's been through a whole lot since 2002. There have been many rumors of a big comeback over the years, but it took until now to get the Clive Davis-produced "I Look To You," an OK album that has very few highs, but even less lows.

With Davis steering the ship, it's no surprise that Houston pens absolutely none of the album and that there are plenty of guest appearances. It's actually surprising that Rob Thomas or Carlos Santana doesn't pop up, or that she's not singing the Great American Songbook. But for all it's faults, "I Look To You" is at least a tasteful set of songs that are, mostly, age-appropriate.

The first thing you'll notice when "Million Dollar Bill," penned by Davis favorite Alicia Keys, starts the record is the change in Houston's voice. It's

not a huge difference, but it's just noticeable enough for fans to become very aware that the singer is now a 46-year-old dealing with age. Her instrument is a just a little more gravely, with a little less range. Even though it's less show-stopping, the slight weariness in her voice actually helps Houston more than it hurts; she can't go over the top anymore.

For the most part, "I Look To You" is a collection of neo-disco dance tunes, which is kind of odd since we don't think of Houston as a club-friendly singer, but the tunes work, in general. The R. Kelly-written title track is the best tune here; the piano ballad is as close to a confessional as you'll get, and it's the most climactic and soaring moment of the album.

"Like I Never Left" is similar to old Whitney. The duet with Akon is breezy and fun, grooving along with a lilt that's both poppy and penetrating. It harkens back to a time when Houston would have hits with dance-lite tracks like "How Will I Know."

Besides the very obvious misstep "For the Lovers," there's nothing that's a real throwaway here. But there's nothing grabbing either. "I Look To You" doesn't have that one obvious hit, that one tune that it will be remembered for.

The best choice might be another Kelly-penned song, "Salute," which ends the record in a fine way. Maybe because Kelly's gone through his own share of very public troubles, he's the best to write for Houston. Of course, he's also simply the most talented songwriter on the album, and that's why his tracks are best. If only "I Look To You" was just a Kelly/Houston collaboration.

San Francisco Chronicle: Whitney Houston: I Look To You
6 September 2009

Anyone who had the misfortune of watching "Being Bobby Brown" will have a hard time erasing the image of Whitney Houston and her ex-husband discussing her constipation issues in execrable detail. The singer's label hopes that a little hairspray and some Photoshop will put that image out of people's minds long enough for her latest comeback attempt to take hold. It's a long shot.

Seven years have passed since "Just Whitney," Houston's previous studio album, and in that time not only her public image has deteriorated but also her voice. That exquisite instrument that inspired countless "American Idol" finalists now makes her sound as if she's suffering from kennel cough on self-help slow jams such as "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" and the R. Kelly-penned "I Look to You." Even Houston's best albums have been overproduced, airless affairs. But for all its songs of redemption, this one feels particularly soulless.

In the autobiographical, Mary J. Blige-style ballad "Nothin' But Love," she shrugs off years of hardship with throwaway lines such as, "Ain't going to regret anything I've done/ I just want to sing my song." At least Alicia Keys manages to put Houston's husky pipes to good use on the old-school roller-disco number "Million Dollar Bill," but maybe that's just because it's a reminder of better, less scatological days. - Aidin Vaziri

The Times: Whitney Houston: I Look To You
October 16, 2009

3 out of 5 Stars

In the US, this comeback album sold more in its first week than any of the diva’s previous offerings. Will the UK follow?

Every diva needs a low from which to return. Tina Turner had to rebuild a career from scratch following her infamously violent marriage to Ike. For much of 2002 Mariah Carey fans waited to see if their favourite singer would recover her marbles after the incident on MTV’s Total Request Live involving an ice-cream cart and not very many clothes. But when Whitney Houston (see feature, page 8) finally began work on her comeback album in 2007 there were several narcotically assisted lows to choose from. The incident when customs officers at Hawaii airport found marijuana in her bag, prompting her to abandon her luggage and run away. Her failure to turn up at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame ceremony honouring her lifelong mentor Clive Davis. Being thrown off the Oscars ceremony in 2000 by the musical director, Burt Bacharach, after repeatedly missing her cues. All strong contenders, to be sure.

Perhaps the greatest indignity, however, came when Houston was reduced to a supporting role in her ex-husband’s reality show Being Bobby Brown. On I Look to You, viewers who remember the couple’s more intimate exchanges may struggle with the assumptions that Houston makes of them. “I know your image of me is what I hope to be,” she sings over the gathering disco storm of the title track. In time, perhaps, but it would have been so much easier if we could erase the memory of Houston and Brown talking in detail about toilet habits.

For all of that, there’s an irrefutable sense that Houston was destined to make an album such as I Look to You. Nary a song goes by that doesn’t, in some way, refer to recently surmounted obstacles. The post-therapy air of empowerment that billows off every note means that if she wanted to share a little joke with us she could have called any one of these songs I Will Always Love Me.

On a synth-festooned roll-call called Nothin’ But Love, she distributes “shout-outs” to “my family that raised me” and “anyone who tried to hate on me” with seemingly equal amounts of zen equanimity. On the crisp, clinical R&B of Salute, though, it’s “yes hard feelings” all the way. It takes more than an R. Kelly writing credit to oust the mental image of Brown as Houston beams: “I’m feeling kinda stronger than you/I feel kinda better than you.” She’s at it again on I Didn’t Know My Own Strength — the sort of timpani-thumping power ballad that songwriters such as Diane Warren are obliged by federal law to hand over to singers such as Houston.

Very little of what you’ll hear on this solid if not spectacular album could be deemed risky. At this stage of Houston’s career that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The influence of Clive Davis, clearly not a man to bear grudges, is unmistakeable. Despite the disparate songwriters, the songs are hand-picked to fall in line with Houston’s story at this point in time.

In terms of re-establishing the singer’s brand in her home country, the plan has clearly yielded results. When it was released in America first week sales of I Look to You exceeded those of any previous Houston album. Who’s to say that in Britain — a country where most people remain unaware of her toilet habits — she might not fare better still?


Guardian: Whitney Houston - I Look To You
15 October 2009

3 out of 5 Stars

The last time we heard from Whitney Houston, on 2002's Just Whitney, she was furiously denying there was anything up with her. Seven years and a visit to rehab later, the ravages are clear. Her vocals are rougher, although that isn't always a problem, particularly if you found the kind of ballad in which her voice battered you like a gale-force wind difficult to stomach. There's a bit of that here, particularly on I Didn't Know My Own Strength, as well as a few recriminations - on Nothin' But Love, she decries "haters", who presumably forced her at gunpoint to take drugs, play an imaginary piano during the 2000 Oscar rehearsals, etc - but otherwise the album concentrates on reinstalling Houston, never resident at R&B's cutting edge, as an unchallenging pop-soul diva. This it does with style, weaving flashes of eurodisco thump around hooky melodies.


The Independent: Album: Whitney Houston, I Look To You (Arista)
16 October 2009

3 out of 5 Stars

"Don't call it a comeback, no, I been here for years/Through all the drama and the pain and all the tears", sings Whitney on "Salute", one of a couple of songs here custom-built for her by R Kelly.

But she protests too much: I Look To You is all about the soap-opera that has been Whitney's life over the past decade, irrespective of which of her collaborators actually wrote the lyrics. Britney/Gaga electro accomplice Fernando Garibay's "Nothin' But Love" is an "I Will Survive" for the 21st century, touching lightly on her tribulations before regally asserting, "I could hold on to pain, but that ain't what my life's about". Both Kelly's title-track and Diane Warren's "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" cannily key into Whitney's gospel roots, with David Foster's tympani-studded, big-ballad arrangement for the latter gathering mass as she overcomes her crash: "In my darkest hour, my faith kept me alive". Elsewhere, Alicia Keys offers sisters-together assistance that helps Whitney re-connect with her dormant talent on the jaunty single "Million Dollar Bill". But despite a sudden transformation into hustling disco mode part way through, the surprise success here is her take on Leon Russell's classic "A Song For You", whose "My Way" – style mood, so perfect for a diva comeback, she delivers with an aplomb and restraint that few of her peers could equal.

Download this A Song For You, Million Dollar Bill, Nothin' But Love, Salute


The Mirror: CD of the week: Whitney Houston - I Look To You
By Gavin Martin on Oct 16, 09 02:00 AM in Music

3 out of 5 Stars

Let's face it, Whitney's comeback album was never going to be less than a credible return. In the seven years since her last pop album was released, Houston has been through all kinds of well documented marital, drug and legal hell.

The man she calls her "industry father", record mogul Clive Davis, has taken time to ensure his prize asset gets the collaborators (including Akon and R Kelly) to nurture her talent back to life.

Together they've finessed a set of songs that make general, if not explicit, reference to her trials and ongoing recovery.

Even after the false starts and public crack-ups, Whitney remains a great singer.
It's a potential boon for anyone going through struggles of their own to hear the newly resplendent Houston vocal riding out the storm on Like I Never Left. Or letting loose on the clap-happy remake of Leon Russell's A Song For You.

Of course, it's not the same voice unfurled by the pre-Bobby Brown, pre-drug abuse Whitney. How could it be? At 46 the lady has certainly lived. But, like any great singer, she works with the scars and loss of range brought about by lifestyle choices.

The effect is to make Houston more human. She's the diva who fell to earth, and this is no bad thing. The joyful opener, Million Dollar Bill, co-written by Alicia Keys, is a carefree floor filler. Nothin' But Love is the first of several allusions to her struggles. I Didn't Know My Own Strength is the album's inevitable big survivor ballad centrepiece.

This album could be stage one of Whitney's comeback. But she may have to get out and sell herself hard onstage to regain former commercial heights.


The Telegraph: Whitney Houston: I Look To You, Pop CD of the week
Whitney Houston's 'I Look To You' is deep, husky and soulful.
By Helen Brown, Published: 6:15PM BST 16 Oct 2009

America loves a comeback. The angel who falls from grace, makes a hushed confession to St Oprah of The Many Viewers, and returns to the hallowed stage with a renewed sense of how humble and “blessed” they are. And few angels have flown higher, fallen farther and confessed more movingly than Whitney Houston. So it’s no surprise her new album has shot straight to the top of the US Billboard charts. Now 46, the former choirgirl nodded sombrely as Oprah spoke of her enormous success (140 million albums sold worldwide) and of “the pain and, frankly, disgust, that so many pop fans felt” on seeing that talent treated so disrespectfully as their idol sank into drug addiction. The studio audience shook their heads as Houston discussed the cocaine and scenes from her tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, and then they clapped for her redemption via rehab, divorce and a new record.

But if you buy this album, are you just shelling out for a share in the Whitney narrative or are you going to get a decent chunk of music? Well, it’s a slick enough slice of adult, contemporary r&b, with on-trend sprinklings of Seventies disco and a couple of trademark big ballads. The Alicia Keys-written Million Dollar Bill (sampling Loleatta Holloway’s 1976 We’re Getting Stronger) is a strong, up-tempo, arm-waving, feel-good opener. Nothin’ But Love is a stadium-sized ode to forgiveness and moving on (although Houston sounds a little old to be singing about “haters”) and her cover of Leon Russell’s A Song For You opens as a piano meditation before turning triumphantly discotastic. Listeners certainly get their full emotional pound’s worth of autobiography on the big, belting ballad I Didn’t Know My Own Strength, where Houston takes us through her darkest hours – “I crashed down and I tumbled but I did not crumble” – and reassures the faithful that she “was not built to break”.

But is the same true of her voice? Well, it’s not the breezily dexterous instrument it was. It’s deeper, huskier and rather more soulful. She still has the ability to stretch a note wide, hold it steady and then snap it perfectly to a close.

Those who always found Houston’s music a little bland and lacking in personality probably won’t find the events of the past few years have added an awful lot to the package. But those who loved her are likely to find both her vulnerability and joy will win them over.


The Sunday Times: Whitney Houston: I Look to You
Dan Cairns

3 out of 5 Stars

Nothing that follows can quite match up to the first minute of this comeback album: over a sample of a Loleatta Holloway bass line, the artist who was the world’s biggest female pop star until drugs brought her low reveals what those lost years did to her voice. In place of the upper-register soaring and acrobatic ornamentation of old, Million Dollar Bill unveils a far thicker, huskier mid-register instrument, and the effect is genuinely poignant. If some of the material here opts for formulaic, emotionally inauthentic R&B, there are moments — A Song for You, the title track, Nothin’ But Love — that serve to strengthen the impression of a once mighty, imperious talent returning, humbled, to the arena. Her career seems unlikely to climb the same peaks; but Houston’s new voice suits her, for all that it clearly came at a terrible price.

RCA 88697100332


The Observer: Whitney Houston: I Look To You
Kitty Empire The Observer, Sunday 18 October 2009

Mary J Blige took the helm of a burgeoning sub-genre with her 2001 milestone No More Drama – the soul of contrition. Whitney Houston's comeback album can't help but recall this and all those other superstar bids to take tuneful stock of bad living and worse husbands. And that's the shame of it. A tapestry of Noughties A-list production credits and consolatory generalisations ("I didn't know my own strength," Houston enunciates), there is little to mark this out as a personal album, especially now that Houston's golden pipes have worn and cracked. Worse still, she reckons she has "nothin' but love" for everyone who has touched her life – hard to fathom in the case of ex-husband Bobby Brown.


Scotsman: Album review: Whitney Houston: I Look to You
Published Date: 19 October 2009
By Fiona Shepherd
ARISTA, £12.72

3 out of 5 Stars

MOVE over Mariah, and tell Leona the news: the Ultimate Diva, the Diva to out-diva all other divas, is back with her first album of new material in seven years – seven eventful years in which the previously Unimpeachable Diva became the Erratic Diva. Dogged by rumours of drug and domestic abuse, Whitney Houston seemed to spend more time in rehab and court than she did making music.

As a result, the Whitney juggernaut was destabilised, but not derailed. There is no point being coy about it – in the realm of the Diva, personal travails can be turned into creative advantage. If Houston's imperious voice sounds a bit rougher these days, that's not the drugs – it's the emotional scars, right? For the purposes of I Look To You, Houston is now Damaged Diva. But, crucially, she made it through the rain, and you're going to hear all about it on her comeback album.

Her old mentor, Arista boss Clive Davis, is back on board as her executive producer, keeping a watchful eye on his volatile charge and putting his latest protégé Alicia Keys on the case to write the first single. The refreshing Million Dollar Bill has Keys's natural soul stamp all over it. It begins with a springy bassline and handclaps before Houston's mellifluous vocal kicks in and all is right in an unforced disco soul throwback kind of way. Result: Whitney's got her groove back.

Nothin' But Love is a more contemporary-sounding mid-paced R&B number with a clubby backing, which artificially plays up to fan expectations of a little self-disclosure. It works for Britney, so why not Whitney? Houston (or her songwriters, acting as her proxy and giving the fans what they want to believe is a personal missive from the Untouchable Diva) assures us she has let go of all the emotional trauma, bygones are bygones, and now she "ain't got nothin' but love" for a whole bunch of folks: "My family that raised me, my teachers that done praised me, anyone who tried to hate on me, even the ones who tried to take me down." That Whitney, she's a saint of a woman…

The pseudo-biographical "revelations" continue on the title track. With a title like that, you can guess what lies ahead – an "inspirational" ballad for which she surely had to catfight Leona Lewis to gain custody. At least Houston can inject some guts into platitudes such as "after all that I've been through, who can I turn to?" Let me guess… the indefatigable "you". Who writes this bilge? R Kelly, apparently. Do you know what I look to, Mr Kelly? I look to the blessed day when I won't be banging my head against a wall because yet another X Factor Whitney wannabe is mauling this track with the aid of a wind machine, halo lighting effect and full gospel choir.

Kelly has another marginally more subtle stab at a survivor's ballad with the album's closing track, Salute, in which he casts Whitney as a "soldier girl". The lyrics are practically cryptic next to the thoroughly trite and cynical chest-beating power ballad I Didn't Know My Own Strength by Diane Warren, a songwriter with a suitcaseful of clichés at her disposal – she even rhymes "tumble" with "did not crumble".

But Whitney is wise to the whole self-referential game anyway: "I know somebody's going to make love to this song tonight," she pronounces on Worth It.

Although Ultimate Diva has no need of guest vocalists to bolster the commercial appeal of her comeback album, hip-hop star Akon was hanging about in reception, so they used him on one of the album's most banal tracks, Like I Never Left. Call You Tonight, for which Houston phones in her performance (boom, boom), also drifts by leaving no trail – there's something about feeling like she knows you from another life, you make her catch her breath, blah de blah, what could be the hollow promises of a lover, but we are hardly encouraged to care.

She also tackles Leon Russell's A Song For You. Now, that is a song, even if it has already been covered by the world and his dog. How to make Whitney's version stand out? What about letting her do her Diva thang for 90 seconds, then sticking a chintzy dancebeat under the rest of the track? Sabotage of a tender, vulnerable, beautiful song achieved. But, over the course of the album, something else is achieved: a robust comeback for a determined artist who sounds like she still has plenty to give.


Metro: Whitney Houston still soldiering on
Whitney Houston: I Look To You

By ARWA HAIDER - Monday, October 19, 2009

3 out of 5 Stars

The anticipation building up to Whitney Houston's seventh album has been fierce and rightly so – after all, isn't fierceness what this all-American diva and tortured soul is supposed to be about?

The music scene prefers its divas to be tragic – hit princess Houston sadly qualified via her notoriously abusive marriage, tantrums and addictions – and then it demands further extremes: either an earthshattering return to form or an epic meltdown.

Happily, I Look To You isn't the latter, yet it's also far too modest to be the former.

Essentially, it's a fine collection of survivor's anthems, two years in the making. Houston might have enlisted some on-trend producers here (Swizz Beatz, Danja) but she isn't about to abandon her 1990s r'n'b stylings.

The album does start out on a high with the joyously soulful disco of single Million Dollar Bill, co-written by Alicia Keys.

It's soon apparent, though, that while Houston's life has been reported as a celebrity car crash, her music is safe territory; don't expect any explicit references to ex-husband Bobby Brown.

On these songs she's cosseted by reliable collaborators, without stretching her range – even though her unmistakable vocals can still send everyday sentiments soaring.

Mega-songwriter Diane Warren provides the typically emotive ballad I Didn't Know My Own Strength; the inexplicably ubiquitous Akon goes beep-beep all over Like I Never Left; and R Kelly contributes defiant breakup song Salute.

You're left with the impression of Houston as showbiz trouper, not exactly living the dream but fiercely soldiering on.


Malaysian Sun: Houston, we have new album
The most awarded female artiste of all time returns with a message of survival and perseverance in I Look to you

In the 25 years since she recorded her history-making debut album, Whitney Houston has become a superstar, a legend, an icon. One of the bestselling female artistes, she has sold over 140 million albums worldwide.

She has been cited as an influence by the likes of Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, and Leona Lewis, and last year, Rolling Stone magazine listed Houston as one of the ‘100 greatest singers of all time’.

But when her longtime mentor Clive Davis, currently chief creative officer of Sony Music Entertainment Worldwide, first approached her about recording an album since her 2002 Just Whitney, Houston didn’t think that she wanted to get back in the game.

Fortunately, though, Davis was persistent and the result, almost three years later, is this new album I Look to You. The disc matches Houston with some of the top writers and producers in pop and R&B (including R. Kelly, David Foster, Akon, Stargate, Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz) for a set of songs full of her signature vocal power and passion.

The album is built on a strong message of survival and perseverance, and reflects the hard-earned lessons of the high-profile personal challenges Houston has encountered in recent years.

The relationship between Houston and Davis, whom she describes as a "father", goes all the way back to 1983, when he signed the young artiste to Arista Records. He oversaw the development and marketing of her 13-million-selling debut, Whitney Houston.

On the new album, Akon joined forces with Houston for Like I Never Left and she notes that the singer is a favourite among the friends of her daughter, Bobbi.

Perhaps the most memorable recording session came on the powerhouse ballad I Didn’t Know My Own Strength, written by Diane Warren. The song reunited Houston with producer David Foster, who worked with her on the incomparable soundtrack to the 1992 film The Bodyguard, one of the biggest-selling albums in history.

Foster’s home was damaged in the Malibu fires of 2007, and when Houston came in to record her vocal, he was working out of a small apartment.

With over 170 million combined albums, singles and videos sold worldwide during her career with Arista Records, Houston has established a benchmark for superstardom that will quite simply never be eclipsed in the modern era.

She is triumphed by the Guinness Book of World Records as music’s ‘most awarded female artiste of all time’ with an amazing tally of 411 awards, inclusive of six Grammy Awards, two Emmys, 23 American Music Awards and 16 Billboard Music Awards.

She holds both the biggest-selling US single of all-time (her career-defining rendition of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You) and one of the top 10 best-selling albums of all-time (The Bodyguard soundtrack) to her many credits. She’s also the only artiste to chart seven consecutive No.1 Billboard Hot 100 hits, hold seven consecutive multi-platinum albums, and reign as the first female artiste to have entered the Billboard 200 album chart at No.1.

But despite her past achievements, Houston’s comeback album falls short of spectacular. Critics have panned her effort to recapture her lost glory, partly because she no longer has the vocal power and depth to command the charts that she once did.

But Houston should be commended for making the effort to return to the music scene after decades in the wilderness. That will be her legacy to the music industry.



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