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Music Week Review, Issue 16 November 2002
Whitney Houston
Just Whitney...
(Arista 74321973062)

This follow-up to the 10m-selling My Love Is Your Love sees Houston marking time with the usual slew of ballads and R&B-lite workouts. Rather undynamic as a collection, the single Whatchulookinat hints at what is to come. Uninspired ballads (On My Own) and dull pop-funk (Love That Man and Tell Me No) do not a good album make.


Guardian Review, 22 November 2002
Whitney Houston: Just Whitney

2 Stars

Alexis Petridis
Friday November 22, 2002
The Guardian

In the mid-1960s, artists realised that rock music could be a highly efficient reactive art form. If something happened that you disagreed with, you could write, record and release a protest song so speedily that it virtually commented upon events as they happened. Weeks after the 1967 Sunset Strip riots, Buffalo Springfield's troubled reaction, For What It's Worth, was in the US top 10. In 1970, former Buffalo Springfield guitarist Neil Young repeated the trick even more effectively. Ohio, his livid response to the National Guard killing four anti-war demonstrators, appeared so quickly that he was rebuked by vice-president Spiro Agnew.

Today rock and pop are still reactive, but the music has lowered its sights. Stars release records commenting not on world events, but on their own bad publicity. The reactive song has become the equivalent of inviting Hello! magazine into your Beautiful And Luxurious Home. It delivers a desperate message: ignore everything you have heard about me in the press. I am, in fact, a wonderful human being.

Michael Jackson's Invincible came packed with songs that sought to underline the complete normality of his sexuality. One featured the frankly stomach-churning image of Jackson enjoying al fresco sex in a park. P Diddy, a man so egotistical he recently claimed to have invented the remix, insisted he was "still humble" on The Saga Continues. Last year Jennifer Lopez appeared in a post-September 11 charity video on condition that the organisers ensured her dressing room was painted white and contained white flowers, white drapes, white candles, a white table and a white couch. Her new single Jenny from the Block insists her behaviour is no more demanding than that of the girl next door. True, if you happen to live between Naomi Campbell and Maria Callas.

But few artists' careers have been so afflicted by adverse publicity as that of Whitney Houston. There is not enough space to list all the bizarre and disturbing stories that have circulated in recent years about the multimillion-selling singer. There have been intimations of spousal abuse, drug problems and mental illness. In 2000 she was dropped from the Oscar ceremony after she forgot lyrics, hummed distractedly and played an imaginary piano at rehearsals. The imaginary piano made another appearance during an interview with a US magazine, during which Houston also had trouble keeping her eyes open. Last year, when she failed to appear at the second of Michael Jackson's 30th anniversary celebrations, her record company was forced to issue a formal statement denying that Houston was dead.

Just Whitney is clearly intended as a response to the way her public image has spiralled out of control. The first single, Whatchulookinat, offers standard reactive song defence number one: the press are making everything up. To her credit, Houston puts in a bravura performance. "Whatchulookinat?" she demands, sounding feisty, but not feisty enough to deflect the obvious answer: they'relookinatchu, because you keep playing an imaginary piano in public.

Elsewhere, Tell Me No comes up with standard reactive song defence number two: shadowy forces are, for reasons unexplained, attempting to prevent Houston "reachin' for my dreams". My Love drags her husband into the studio to suggest that far from the drug-addled disaster area he is widely supposed to be, Bobby Brown is virtually the light of the world.

Houston hails from an era before Destiny's Child and Aaliyah turned R&B into pop's most sonically adventurous genre. Even by mid-1980s standards, however, her records were tame stuff. She dealt in big, unctuous ballads - I Will Always Love You and drunken mum's karaoke favourite Greatest Love of All. However, her last album, 1998's My Love Is Your Love, unexpectedly strove for urban contemporaneity. Guests Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott engineered a largely successful hip overhaul.

The spacey, downbeat Things You Say aside, Just Whitney takes a musical step backwards. Love That Man invokes the crossover pop-soul of I Wanna Dance with Somebody and Tell Me No ends with a widdly rock guitar solo. A particularly runny version of cabaret standard You Light Up My Life recalls the stadium balladry of yore. The album's solitary stab at a contemporary collaboration involves P Diddy, who once again favours the world with a guest rap. Suffice to say, it's up to his usual golden standard - ie, he sounds like Tony Slattery improvising a marching song on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Like Jackson's Invincible, Just Whitney does everything in its power to suggest all is normal with the artist behind it. While the lyrics attempt to brazen it out, the music embarks on a damage limitation exercise of its own. It studiously invokes a past when Houston's name was associated with implausible sales figures rather than implausible behaviour. Desperate to sound normal, it winds up sounding deathly dull. It might cause people to stop looking at Whitney Houston, but for all the wrong reasons.

hmv.co.uk - Just Whitney...  November 2002

The biggest selling female vocalist ever is back with another amazing album. A combination of pop, up-tempo RnB tracks and trademark Whitney ballads, 'Just Whitney' features the fantastic first single 'Whatchulookinat?', a track that rips into the press and others who have intruded on Whitney's personal life over the past few years, telling them to get a life so she can get on with hers ("All you know you need to stop it/Defaming my name for a profit/God is the reason my soul is free/And I don't need you looking at me"). The album also features the blazin' hot remix crafted by P. Diddy (who also appears on the track), and 'One Of Those Days', produced by Kevin 'Sha'kspere' Briggs.


Ceefax (Teletext)
Whitney Houston - Just Whitney...

Singers who succeed in reinventing themselves are few and far between - but Whitney Houston is one of them.

The big power ballads and quivering emotion have pretty much disappeared along with the surname - to be replaced by a tougher, more focused version.

Just Whitney... completes he work begun on her last album, My Love Is Your Love.

And producers such as Babyface and Missy Elliott conjure up a crisp sound to match the no-nonsense mood.

-- Nigel Packer


The Times, 22 November 2002
Torch songs and damp squibs

Never mind her foibles, Whitney Houston has stil got it - most of the time
Whitney Houston
Just Whitney

HER loopy reputation precedes her these days. But if you ask me, the more Whitney Houston has gone off the rails the better her music has become. Her last British tour, in 1999, was marked by reports of erratic behaviour. But whenever she did (eventually) walk on stage to perform hits such as It’s Not Right but It’s OK and My Love is Your Love the air around her seemed to crackle with kinetic energy.

No longer the queen of the power ballad — a baton which she handed on to Celine Dion sometime in the 1990s — Houston had somehow transformed herself into a righteous R&B dominatrix with an unlikely hint of ghetto fabulous.

Now, as her 40th birthday approaches, she seems intent on having her cake and eating it with her new album, Just Whitney (Arista/BMG). On the one hand there is a run of old-school torch songs and big, break-up ballads every bit as dull and schmaltzy as her early stuff. A Babyface-produced version of the standard You Light up my Life is given the full showboating treatment, while On my Own even has a chorus which begins with the words “And I . . .” sung in such a way that you can’t help but worry that the line is going to finish “. . . will always love you”.

But the street-smart side of Houston has not disappeared altogether, and at the other end of the spectrum the current single, Whatchulookinat, is a much harder, Bobby Brown production (and P. Diddy remix) in which a frankly rather paranoid lyric is delivered with a feisty, Beyonce-ish wobble in the voice. New Whitney and Old Whitney even get to team up for the autobiographical Unashamed, a song with a fairly bland instrumental arrangement but laced together with a vocal thread of pure steel: “Listen here and listen good. I’m unashamed of the life that I lead, unashamed of the strength of my need.”

Good for you, girl. Just don’t get too comfortable with it.


BBC Review
Whitney Houston - Just Whitney...

[Review is very similar to the Ceefax review which was also written by Nigel Packer)

Singers who succeed in reinventing themselves are few and far between - but Whitney Houston is one of them.

The big power ballads and quivering emotion have pretty much disappeared along with the surname  - to be replaced by a tougher, more focused version.

Just Whitney completes the work began on her last album My Love Is Your Love.

And producers such as Babyface and Missy Elliott conjure up a crisp sound to match the no-nonsense mood.

The voice has deepened with age, and the delivery is now more restrained.

Things You Say, co-written by Missy Elliott, is bluesy and spacious.

But she slips back into old habits with On My Own, a bloated ballad that sounds so familiar you half expect to see Kevin Costner burst into the room.

Elswhere, though, it's the leaner and meaner sounding Whitney Houston who wins through - and this album's all the better for it.

-- Nigel Packer


Aftonbladet Review,   24 November 2002 (Swedish review)
Whitney tillbaka på allvar

Whitney Houston
Just Whitney...

Det var den här skivan Toni Braxton skulle ha gjort.
Det var de här låtarna hon skulle ha haft för att bli tagen på riktigt, riktigt allvar.
Whitney Houston har – med tanke på att hennes svettiga och drogade ansikte, sjukligt avmagrade kropp och alla rykten om att hon tappat rösten fyllt spaltmeter efter spaltmeter de senaste åren – gjort en stark comeback.
”Just Whitney...” är ett homogent, genomarbetat och föredömligt kort – soulalbum. Det innehåller bara tio låtar, elva om man räknar in den ojämna fåntratten P Diddys utmärkta remix av inledande ”Whatchulookinat” .
Och precis som titeln skvallrar om handlar det ännu en gång om en traditionell Whitney Houston-skiva. Hon har ju en förmåga att låta likadant oavsett vilken producent eller låtskrivare som för tillfället förser henne med låtar, som den moderna soulscenens Van Morrison hon är.
Rösten, den kraftfulla, stadiumvältande och omfångsrika rösten, står alltid i centrum. Whitney sjunger fortfarande de flesta av banan. Och nej, hon är inte så klinisk och opersonlig som vissa belackare vill få er att tro – att bara låta henne vara en angelägenhet för Patrick Batemans satiriska utläggningar i ”American psycho” är att göra det lite enkelt för sig.
Lyssna bara på den underbara balladen ”Try it on my own”, en av de vackraste låtar som Babyface någonsin satt sitt namn under.
Lyssna på den briljanta ”Tell me no” och tolkningen av Debby Boones ”You light up my life” – ingen annan sångerska klarar av så kolossala anslag lika bra som Whitney Houston.
Med ”Things you say” bevisar också Missy Elliott åter igen att hon kan iscensätta lågmäld, traditionellt behandlad r’n’b med samma framgång som sinnesutvidgande futurism. Och ”Love that man” är en snabb, nostalgisk och direkt återblick på den popsoul som fick Whitney att erövra jordklotet från början.
Kanske saknar ”Just Whitney...” lika enorma höjdpunkter som förra plattan. Här finns trots allt ingen ny ”My love is your love” eller ”It’s not right but it’s okay”.
Kanske är inte duetten med maken Bobby Brown i ”My love” det världen behöver just nu.
Dessutom tycker jag inte att She’kspeare – mannen som låg bakom det mesta på skivan ”The writing’s on the wall” med Destiny’s Child – lyckas göra Whitney Houston rättvisa med sin lätta flipperspelsproduktion i ”Dear John letter”.
Men det råder ingen tvekan – Whitney är tillbaka på allvar.

Translation of pertinent comments (Thanks Michael G.]:
- This is the album that Toni Braxton SHOULD have made to have a good comeback.
- Instead, WH has made this terrific album that signifies a definitive comeback.

- Whitney Houston has a rare ability to overpower and take charge of a song regardless of which producer she is with. She brings an unparalleled homogenity to her work.
- Her voice is in fine fine shape.
- She (as a persona and singer) is not as clinical and bland as her reputation suggests.
- The reference to her in American Psycho is too simple a stretch - she has evolved since that time.
- On My Own is one of the most beautiful songs Babyface has ever written.
- Tell Me No is brilliant.
- No other singer can handle such collosally disparate interpretations.
- There is no My Love Is Your Love or It's Not Right But It's Okay here, though.
- Dear John Letter is good, but not Shek'speare's best work.
- Love That Man is a nostalgis throwback to her roots, what made her famous.
- Things You Say keeps her up to date with the best of R&B
- Whitney is definitely back.


Der Tagesspiegel (Germen Review)

In höchsten Tönen

Jennifer Lopez und Whitney Houston wollen wissen, wer die Beste ist – ihre neuen Alben erscheinen zeitgleich Von Sassan Niasseri Um das diesjährige Weihnachtsgeschäft streiten sich gleich drei Pop-Divas: Bevor Mariah Carey am 2. Dezember ihr neues Album veröffentlicht, steht am Montag ein tete-r-tete der besonderen Art an – Whitney Houston und Jennifer Lopez bringen ihre neuen Werke zeitgleich auf den Markt. Houston, 39, und Lopez, 31, das ist auch ein Duell zweier Generationen. Die Souldiva alter Schule gegen den schrillen Latino-Star. Die stimmgewaltige Balladenromantik der 80er gegen den sexgeladenen Gossen-Funk der 90er. Samt gegen Neon. Eine der beiden wird verlieren.

Früher hätte niemand es gewagt, am selben Tag wie Whitney Houston ein Album zu veröffentlichen, so groß war ihre musikalische Dominanz: 25 Millionen verkaufte Exemplare ihres Rekord-Debütalbums „Whitney“ (1985), sieben US-Nr. 1 Singles in Folge, auch Rekord, und noch ein Charts-Platzhalterrekord mit „I will always love you" (1992, 14 Wochen). Und über all dem schwebte die ktavenübergreifende Stimme der Gospel-Chorschülerin, die das Magazin „Billboard" einmal „Ein Geschenk Gottes" nannte. Ihre Eleganz kannte keinen Fehler – dachte man. Heute steht Houstons Karriere auf dem Spiel. Der Comeback-Versuch „Just Whitney“ könnte ihr Untergang sein. Seit ihrem letzten Album „My Love is your Love" (1998) prägt ein hässliches Bild von ihr die Öffentlichkeit: das der mit Drogen zugedröhnten, lallenden Diva. Eine Diva auf dem Weg nach unten. Hartnäckig hält sich das Gerücht, Houston sei drogensüchtig. Tiefpunkt ihrer Karriere: Die letztjährigen Dementis ihrer Managerin, Houston sei an Magersucht oder einer Überdosis Crack gestorben. Houstons Freunde sind sich sicher: Ihr zur Gewalt neigender Ehemann, Ex-Rapstar und Drogen-Straftäter Bobby Brown, trage die Schuld für die Verwandlung der ehemals bibelfrommen Schönheit in eine geistesabwesend erscheinende Performerin.

„Just Whitney“ hat Werbung dringend nötig. Doch „Whatcha lookin’ at?“, ihre bei den „MTV Europe Awards“ vorgestellte neue Single, schaffte es – früher undenkbar – nicht einmal in die Top 50 der US-Charts. Der Dance-Song erinnert an die Retourkutschen, wie sie Michael Jackson an die verhasste Öffentlichkeit feuert: „Now I'm turning the cameras back on you / Same spotlights, the ones who gave me fame / Trying to dirty up Whitney's name." Ein gelungenes Stück. Der Rest des Albums aber klingt, trotz prominenter Songschreiber im Hintergrund, nur allzu altbacken. Es gibt viele Schmalzballaden anno 1987 („One of these Days") und ein bemühtes Treuschwur-Duett mit Bobby Brown („My Love“).

Dennoch ist Houstons Plattenfirma zuversichtlich, der „New York Times" sagte „Arista"-Präsident Antonio L.A. Reid: „Whitney ist bei guter Gesundheit. Sie sieht wunderbar aus.“ Noch immer überflügele sie die Konkurrenz. „Trends kommen und gehen, aber ihre Stimme ist zeitlos.“ Kurz zuvor erst hatte die Sängerin mit ihrer Plattenfirma einen 100 Millionen Dollar-Vertrag abgeschlossen. Als Kernzielgruppe sind nun die Über-25-Jährigen „Adult Soul“-Hörer angepeilt. Das bedeutet: Verzicht auf viele Käufer. Und meint ganz einfach: Whitney Houston gilt jetzt als uncool.

Bessere Verkaufschancen hat Jennifer Lopez mit ihrem dritten Album „This is me…Then". Seit ihrem Durchbruch an der Seite von George Clooney in der Gangster-Romanze „Out of Sight" (1998) führt die US-Puerto Ricanerin eine reibungslose und hochbezahlte Dreifachkarriere: als körperbetonte Actionschauspielerin („The Cell"), als Covergirl unzähliger Modezeitschriften (ihren Körper ließ sie für 300 Millionen Dollar versichern) und als Sängerin von 25 Millionen verkauften Alben mit dem Künstlernamen „J. Lo". Sie ist der größte Latino-Star überhaupt. Vor kurzem erst wurde sie bei den „MTV Europe Awards" von den Fernsehzuschauern als „Best Female" ausgezeichnet.

Bereits ihre erste Filmrolle im Migranten-Drama „My Family" (1995) ebnete Lopez den Weg als Identifikationsfigur eingewanderter Hispanics, die sich aus der Unterschicht heraus eine Karriere in den USA erarbeiten; der Titel ihres Albumdebüts „On the Six“ bezieht sich auf die U-Bahnlinie, mit der die junge Jennifer aus der Bronx nach Manhattan zum Ballettunterrricht fuhr.

Nach all den Jahren des Erfolgs aber präsentiert sich das ehemalige Ghettokind Lopez heute als unangenehm reich, vulgär und goldbeschmückt – eine Image-Entwicklung von der strebsamen Schauspielerin zur Göre. Dafür zeichnet auch ihr Förderer und Ex-Freund, der HipHop-Mogul P Diddy, verantwortlich, der sie in die New Yorker Musikkreise einführte. Die glamouröse Beziehung mit dem Erfolgsproduzenten endete vor zwei Jahren, als P Diddy wegen einer Nachtclub-Schießerei vor Gericht landete. Lopez, die vor der Polizei aussagen mußte, fürchtete einen Imageschaden und trennte sich daraufhin von ihm: Mag die „Gangsta"-Paarung ihrem Image als Sängerin pfleglich sein, in Hollywood ist es das für die Karriere nicht. Mittlerweile ist sie mit dem Schauspieler Ben Affleck verlobt.

Mit „Just Whitney“ hat „This is me… Then“ vor allem gemein, dass es sich bei beiden Alben um glatt kalkulierte, brave, von unzähligen Produzenten zurechtgerührte Kunstprodukte handelt. Wenn Houston nur noch zu Kaffee und Kuchen gespielt wird, eignen sich die wenig verführerischen „R&B“-Klänge Lopez’ höchstens für das Fitnessstudio – daran ändert auch die Mitarbeit nahmhafter Rapper wie LL Cool J („All I have“) nichts. Geradezu beschämend versucht die Multimillionärin gar, sich auf ihrer neuen Single „Jenny from the Block“ noch immer als „Latina von der Straße“ zu verkaufen, der „Roots“-Bewusstsein wichtiger ist als Dollar-Segen und die auf fünf Millionen Dollar angesetzte Prunkhochzeit mit Affleck: „I stay grounded/ As the amounts roll in/ I’m real/ I came from South Bronx.“ Das dazugehörige Video zeigt die extrovertierte Lopez und ihren Verlobten wenig glaubwürdig als ein Paar, das schwer an der Verfolgung durch Paparazzi zu knabbern hat.

Unerbittlich erklimmt „Jenny from the Block“ die US-Top Ten – ein sicherer Hinweis für den Erfolg des kommenden Albums. Houston dagegen muss hoffen, dass die Öffentlichkeit ihr die Eskapaden irgendwann verzeiht. Wenigstens ihre Gesangsstimme hätte aufmerksame Zuhörer verdient. Sie ist nach den Jahren voller Tragik und Zusammenbrüche noch immer so schön wie früher. Daran können auch die schwachen Songs nichts ändern.

Translation of pertinent comments [Thanks Manuel/Andre]:

Jennifer Lopez and Whitney Houston, they both want to know who’s the best - their new albums are coming out the same day.

By Sassan Niasseri

No less than 3 pop-divas are fighting against each other for the highest sales this Christmas: Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Jennifer Lopez.

Houston, 39, and Jennifer,31, that’s also the fight of the generations. The old-school soul-diva against the hip Jennifer. The big-voiced romantic ballads of the 80s against the sexy Funk-music of the 90s. Velvet against neon. One of them will loose the game...

Back in the day, no one would have dared to release an album the same day Whitney does. Her musical dominance was just too big: she sold 25 Mio. copies of her record-breaking debut. She had seven consecutive No. 1 (again a record) and IWALY was on the top of the charts for 14 weeks, something no one else ever had done before.

Above everything, there was this huge voice of the gospel-singer that Billboard once called a "gift of God". Her elegance was perfect - one thought. Nowadays her career is not safe anymore. Her comeback might even be the end of her career. Since the release of her latest album MLIYL her image is not as clean as it used to be: drugs, rumours and scandals. A diva on her way down. There is a strong rumour Houston might be addicted to drugs.

The deepest point of her career: Houston’s management had to deny that she is dead. Her friends are sure: Her husband is the one to be blamed for the transformations of the pious beauty into a star appearing to be totally absent.

"Just Whitney..." needs some good promotion, desperately. But WLA, the song she performed at the EMAs this year didn’t even entered the Top 50 in the USA- something that seemed impossible years ago. The Dance-Song reminds one of a song Michael Jackson could have done: "Now I’m turning [...] Whitney’s name"

A good song. However, the rest of the album is, even with the support of famous producers, a step backwards. There are many schmaltzy songs on it that could have been done in the 80s (One Of Those Days) and then there is a duet that tries to convince people of the love between Whitney and Bobby: My Love.

Still, Whitney’s record company is confident, as they were telling the New York Times: "Whitney is well. She looks great."

She’s still so much better than her contemporaries.

"Trends come an go, but her voice is timeless".

It was only shortly before, that her record-company gave her a new record-deal, that is said to be worth more than 100 Mio. dollar.

The main target-audience are people over 25 years, the "Adult-Soul"-Listeners. That means: they renounce many buyers. Simply speaking, Whitney Houston is now considered as not cool.

[part about Jennifer Lopez]

JW...is, as much as Jennifer’s album, calculated an manipulated by many producers so that in the end, it sounds fake...

Houston has to hope that the public will forget about her scandals sometime. At least her voice deserves it to be heard. After all the years of troubles it is still as beautiful as it was back in the day. Even the weak songs can’t change that.


Sunday Times
Pop: New Releases: Whitney Houston: Just Whitney
dan cairns

Just Whitney
Arista 74321983242

No Star.

AFTER bestriding the 1990s with her fellow coloratura queen, the now similarly troubled Mariah Carey, Whitney hit the buffers. Rumour followed rumour: tantrums, drug addiction, worrying chart positions and diminishing sales figures. Incredibly, she’s back, with a squillion-dollar record deal (will they never learn?). The usual suspects — Missy, Babyface and P Diddy — have been rounded up, but they can’t disguise the increasingly apparent cracks (no pun intended). Ten tracks, nine stiffs, and only one gem (Tell Me No) recalling better times: surely a poor return for Arista’s money, let alone yours. On My Own is the nadir, with the singer straining for notes that would once have been effortless; while the hysterical vocal flourishes that close Unashamed make painful listening. Houston, you have a problem.


Spiegel (German Magazine)
Whitney Houston - "Just Whitney..."(Arista/BMG)

"This Is Me...Then", "Nichts als die Wahrheit", "Just Whitney..." - es nimmt und nimmt kein Ende mit den ungefragten Nabelschauen. Was sagt eigentlich die Plattenfirma dazu? Die Plattenfirma sagt: "If you're messin' with Whitney, you're loosin' big time". Whitneys uns nicht näher bekannter Drogenberater dürfte auf Grund von Houstons jüngsten Fernsehauftritten schon eher ein mahnendes "Don't mess with Doctor Dream" geäußert haben, doch die berüchtigte Fünf-Oktaven-Frau schlug bereits mit der Single "Whatchulookinat" zurück: "Same spotlights, the ones who gave me fame/ tryin' to dirty up Whitney's name". Ja, mit Whitney ist nicht zu spaßen. Leider auch nicht mit Carlos Santana, der den Schluss des ansonsten wirklich akzeptablen "Tell Me No" gnadenlos zergniedelt. Auch Ehemann Bobby Brown darf mitsingen ("My Love"), die Ballade "Things You Say" ist immerhin ein Highlight, insgesamt gesehen ist auf "Just Whitney..." jedoch kein einziger Song, der das Format von "My Love Is Your Love" oder meinetwegen auch "The Greatest Love Of All" erreicht. Dust yourself off and try again.
Jan Wigger

Here are some highlights of the article [Thanks Andre]:

The autor, at first, refers to the drug rumours, even making a silly joke about "Whitney's drug dealer". He doesn't like "Santana's" playing on the end of "Tell Me No" which is otherwise an acceptable song. "Things You Say" is the highlight for the author. But he says there's no song on the album on the same level as "My Love Is Your Love" or even "Greates Love of All". He ends the article by the comment "Dust yourself off and try again."


Dotmusic, 28 November 2002

Say what you like about divas, but at least they give you your money's worth. If the music isn't working, there's always the soap opera surrounding it to keep everyone enthralled. Whether it's J Lo, Mariah, Lauryn or even shiny happy Kylie, these women draw their fans in to their worlds, even as that intrusion seemingly inhibits and depresses them. The girls can't help it.

And nowhere in the whole weird world of pop is this more the case than round at La Houston's gaff. In the past few years Whitney's private life has been the stuff of gobsmacking tabloid-tastic legend. Getting nicked coming out of Hawaii with a handbag full of dope two years ago was bad enough; reports of her increasingly erratic behaviour and ever more extreme mood swings reached such a crescendo that her record label felt the need to deny that she was dead.

So 'Just Whitney' is being trumpeted as the troubled siren getting back to basics. That's 'Just Whitney', back in the studio, laying down a few tracks with only some producers and musicians for company. Oh, and maybe a voice coach. And a fashion designer. And maybe the make-up artist, fitness trainer, dietician and perhaps even a spiritual advisor.

And, amazingly, perhaps, this is a cogent, compact and really quite good record, one that mixes upbeat, perhaps slightly clinical R&B with uber-ballads and occasional snatches of what appears to be an attempt at intimacy. It's not the equal of the often quite brilliant 'My Love Is Your Love', but it does prove that there's more to Houston than a string of worrying headlines and a back catalogue that's sold a staggering 140 million copies.

That said, Houston seems more than happy to play that arch post-modern game of referencing the publicly aired problems while never quite getting down to specifics. 'Whatchulookiknat' is the most obvious riff on these themes, with remixer P Diddy even popping up with the clichéd "Houston, we have a problem" line. But 'Tell Me No' - a classy acoustic belter, which sounds like Whitney's been listening to Beverley Knight - finds her telling us that "You criticise my actions, but I don't see you standing in my shoes". And, in 'On My Own' she assures us that "I'm stronger now, I've learned from my mistakes".

Well, we can but hope.

Angus Batey


ABS-CBNNews.com Review, 29 November 2002
In their new album the divas try to be divaesque

NY Times News Service

For divas and would-be divas, a voice and a batch of potential hit songs aren’t enough. Sure, a diva has to beguile radio programmers in order to reach listeners. But she also has to project a larger-than-life persona, using her songs to link personal history to grand female archetypes, then hoping she has picked an archetype the public will endorse.

With their new albums, Christina Aguilera, Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston, Jennifer Lopez and Shania Twain, five women who flank Mariah Carey in the late-2002 diva derby, are as busy posturing as they are singing. They’re bearing up under the pressures of celebrity, finding the right balance between romance and self-respect, deciding when to be a lover and when to be a fighter. And through it all, they promise to “keep it real” with all the artifice at their command.

WHITNEY HOUSTON: Houston, the best singer of the bunch, juggles roles carefully on Just Whitney… (Arista), with four love songs, two kiss-off songs (one hedged), three self-esteem numbers and her one songwriting credit, an antitabloid complaint called “Whatchulookinat” that grumbles that enemies “try to dirty up Whitney’s name.” “My Love” celebrates 10 years of tabloid-turbulent marriage in a duet with her husband, Bobby Brown, as they both show off their soul technique while she proclaims she’s no gold digger and he admits she’s not like other girls. Houston’s voice sails and spirals through breathy ballads, staccato constructions and big-build anthems; she’s strategic and improvisatory at the same time. She easily commands her backup choirs, and she seems to especially savor the de-fiant pronouncements in songs like “Un-a-shamed” and “Tell Me No.” Even when she’s see-thing, she’s graceful.


Daily Express, 22 November 2002
The World's Best Diva
CD Pick: Whitney Houston: Just Whitney
* * (Poor)

Anyone can sing.  Get any old carthorse from the telly and put them in a recording studio with all the knobs and producers and technology and you'll be saying: "Oooh, I didn't know he could sing."   Trust me.  Anyone can sing.  Whitney Houston can sing, but she isn't a singer.  Whitney is a diva, and the point of divas is not to sing: the point of divas is to strop: to demand that some flunky picks out all the blue smarties - and then strop again.

Whitney can sell millions of records - hey, she does sell millions of records - but the reason we are interested in her (and the reason why Arista signed her last year for , apparently, $100million) is that she has impeccable diva credentials.  From retreating to her multi-million dollar estate at the height of her fame in 1989, to pulling out of the 2000 Oscars because she was "unable  to perform"m to allegedly checking into a drugs-rehab clinic in 2001, the stories are legion - and we haven't even started on her relationships.

Just Whitney isn't bad: producers like Kevin She'kspere Briggs and Babyface are experienced and smart, but it is dull.  The single, Whatchulookinat, produced by "Piffy" Diddy and co-written by Debbie "Blondie" Harry, is a catchy slice of urban funk.  The rest of the album has a lot of droopy ballads which emphasise Whitney's vocal gymnastics - the woman has got enough filler to stock the shelves at B&Q.  Does it matter?  Probably not.   It will sell.

Postscript: The press release tells you a number of things.  Favourite colour?  Lavender. Favourite food? Pop tarts.   Favourite chore?  Vacuuming.  There's nothing more I can tell you.


Herald-Sun (Melbourne), 28 November 2002
Whitney Houston
, Just Whitney (BMG)

For a moment is looked as if Whitney Houston was going Street - on the sassy It's Not Right But it's OK from her last album.  But Houston is returning to her roots in adult pop - keeping it not so much real as keeping it safe, with seriously dated production.  She proves she's in fine voice with the powerful ballad On My Own and a cover of You Light Up My Life, duets with hubby Bobby Brown on the defiant My Love and lashes out at tabloid critics on the over-defensive Whatulookinat.

The verdict: * * 1/2
In a word: bland


Blues & Soul November 19 - December 2 Page 50
Whitney Houston - Just Whitney...

Whitney returns with what many will see as her finest album to date "Just Whitney" scheduled for release later this month through Arista. Opening with the sadly underrated "Whatchulookinat", the album then delivers the sublimely soulful R&B sawyer "Love That Man" which sends a shiver up this back. This song's a classy affair with Whitters hitting those notes that only she (and a few others) can achieve.

On the ballad tip, you'll have to search long and hard to find a better ballad this year than the breathtaking "Thing's You Say". It's Whitney back to her best. The duet "My Love" with hubby Bobby Brown sits comfortably on this smoothed out urban driven set and offers yet further scope to the album. And the quality is maintained with "One Of Those Days", an excellent slice of soulful mid-beat head nod R&B with an effective sample utilizing the Isley Brothers' "Between The Sheets". And Whitney never sounded better. Slightly edgier on the groove front is the bass-driven "Dear John Letter" which has the necessary potential and power to become a future classic.

An album that I believe will bring Whitney back to favour with an almighty bump.


Eager divas

Mariah and J-Lo airbrush their private lives, so it's a candid Whitney who wins the seasonal battle of the belters

Kitty Empire
Sunday December 1, 2002
The Observer

MARIAH CAREY Charmbracelet (Mercury 063 384 2)

WHITNEY HOUSTON Just Whitney (BMG 7432198324 2)

JENNIFER LOPEZ This Is Me... Then (Epic 510128 2)

Like town centre buses laden with Christmas shoppers, no fewer than three major albums by A-list belters have come along at once. Played end to end, their ululations would shatter every Christmas light along Bond Street. Well, you wouldn't catch them shopping on Oxford Street.

For J-Lo and Whitney and Mariah are more than just singers of songs. They are divas: royalty, goddesses and archetypes all rolled into Brazilian-waxed, chakra-balanced fairytale wholes. We know they are divas because they hate to be called divas, much as criminals prefer to be known as businessmen.

We don't look to a diva album for tunes, we look to it for a sliver of the singer's soul. And if the road to the recording studio has been bumpy, then anticipation soars. Embattled divas are the most entertaining, the most useful, even if the quality of their music seesaws as wildly as their private lives. Has that messy business with the drugs charge warped the Whitney record? Might La Lopez's flibbertigibbet love life be reflected in her lyrics? Will Mariah Carey be black or white this time? We want diary entries. Of course, The Voice should get a good run up some rocky scales as well, and if all this comes harnessed to good tunes, courtesy of some happening producers - well, bargains. Mainly, though, it's the contact high we seek, the intimate narrative.

The divas and their record companies know this all too well. Each of these albums affects to provide a window into the soul of the star, just as the booklet photos display precisely identical chinks of coyly pneumatic bosom. Look at the titles. Playing fast and loose with syntax and grammar, they affect to be a meaningful gift (Charmbracelet) or declare themselves to be transparent (Just Whitney, This Is Me... Then). Of the three, Houston's addresses her very public travails the most directly, albeit with the fewest signifiers of intimacy. No 'handwritten' sleeve notes (J-Lo) or open letters to the fan (Carey) for the diva's diva.

Caught at an airport with cannabis (the charges against her were dismissed), Houston's consistently addled behaviour last year saw her dropped from the Oscars ceremony. The entertainment press had a field day, and finds itself blamed for much of Houston's static. Her single, 'Whatchulookinat', levels its gaze straight back at the lenses, accusing the 'cameras who gave her fame' of trying to 'dirty Whitney's name'. Mercifully, the track's steeped in more stylish urban production than even sometime hip-hopper Lopez can muster on her sopping excuse for an album. Elsewhere, Houston is unapologetic ('Unashamed'), defensive ('Tell Me No') or just a hard-working girl who's had one of those days we can all relate to ('One Of Those Days'). All is uncommonly well in the exchange of cash for candour.

Add to this a roll call of good producers (Shek'spear, Missy Elliott, Houston's husband Bobby Brown) and, unexpectedly, La Houston emerges victorious from this solipsistic scrum of lungs.

If Houston seemed a little giggly and heavy-lidded the other year, at least she wasn't trying to do herself an injury. Mariah Carey's idyllic life broke down when her album flopped, her label paid her the GDP of several sub-Saharan African countries not to come in to work any more, her film flopped and she broke up with her boyfriend. Charmbracelet calls in reserves of well-worn metaphor in support: sunshine after rain, salvation, rainbows and butterflies. Carey isn't massively R&B any more either. She can still trill and all, but given the maelstrom of angst the multi-octave voice has weathered, her Charmbracelet is disappointingly short on detail, and long on sugar-coated resolution. Synths shimmer, as Disneyfied ballads about overcoming non-specific tribulation alternate with fairytale love songs sung in a little girl tone. A tough Jay-Z interlude on 'You Got Me' sounds like a skidmark on a yellow brick road. No one was quite expecting a Mary J. Blige to emerge from the pupa of Carey's nervous breakdown, but this piece of candyfloss? No details, no redeeming sass: no sale.

That said, Charmbracelet feels like a Delta blues box set when set against Jennifer Lopez's saccharine confection. 'Jenny From The Block', the exceptional single, briefly restates J-Lo's hip-hop credentials. While Whitney and Mariah have been on the rocks, J-Lo, it seems, has just been wearing them: 'Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got/ I'm still Jenny from the block,' she purrs, so perhaps it's unfair to lump her with the Survivor Divas. Elsewhere, though, the window on to her innermost being is wide open. Most engagingly, 'Still' reads like a letter to erstwhile beau Puffy Combs, regretting their split.

She's now with actor Ben Affleck, however, and tells us so in no less than half the album, including a song called 'Dear Ben' (surely as unwise as a tattoo of his name), followed up by 'Baby I Love U', 'Loving You', 'The One (Version 2)' and so on. Single aside, the only suggestion of attitude - that which used to separate J-Lo from women who would never be called W-Ho and M-Ca - comes from a Carly Simon cover. One never wishes ill on performers, but you can't help wondering what a spell off the rails might do for her work. Mariah's response to calamity is the exception here: our divas remain most fascinating punching and pouting their way out of a jam. Really, it's not about the music . If we're honest, we don't really want to hear them sing, we prefer to hear them squirm.

· To order Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey for £13.99, or Jennifer Lopez for £14.99, call the Observer Music Service on 0870 066 7813. Prices include p&p


Independent Review, 29 November 2002
Album: Whitney Houston
Just Whitney, Arista

Surely only a celebrity would imagine that the best way to combat excessive public interest in one's private life would be to write and release a single about, er, excessive public interest in one's private life, as Whitney Houston does here with the chippy "Whatchulookinat?". As if that alone weren't enough to ensure increased interest in the travails so frequently afflicting her marriage to Bobby Brown, then having Bobby produce the track should guarantee blanket coverage in the gossip columns. It's a decent enough track, certainly the best thing here, feisty and funky if a little too self-obsessed – rather like Whitney herself, one suspects. "God is the reason my soul is free/ And I don't need you lookin' at me," she sings, clearly in denial about her position as a performer. These kinds of "look/don't look" vacillations underscore all of Just Whitney, which focuses on the singer's own life like no previous Whitney Houston album. Songs like "Unashamed", "Tell Me No" and "Love That Man" could have been written to order for her present situation, espousing as they do faith and fidelity in the face of insecurity, while "Dear John Letter" and "On My Own" involve wistful contemplation of a possible future flying solo, so to speak. Behind the veneer of personality, however, there's much less actual character to the music.


Billboard Review, 14 December 2002

Album Title: Just Whitney . . .
Producer(s): various Arista 14791
Label/Catalog Number: RELEASE DATE: Dec. 10
Source: PRINT
Originally Reviewed: December 14, 2002

Brevity is the order of the day for Whitney Houston. At 10 tracks, which collectively clock in at under 40 minutes, Just Whitney . . . appears and sounds more like a work-in-progress than a finished disc. Working with several producers—including Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Babyface, and Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs—Houston (the voice, that is) all too often gets lost in the mix. For the most part, Just Whitney . . . showcases an artist simply going through the motions. What was once a powerful and glossy instrument (her voice, that is) now lacks emotion and verve. Witness lackluster lead single "Whatchulookinat?," the bland "My Love" (featuring her husband, Bobby Brown), and a tepid cover of Debbie Boone's "You Light Up My Life." That said, current single, the Isley Brothers-referencing "One of Those Days," and the lyrically deft "Unashamed" ably prove that Houston still has the soul to turn it out.—MP


Entertainment Weekly, 13 December 2002
Whitney Houston

Just Whitney...

Houston's Just Whitney has a refreshingingly old-school vibe. Whatever her personal problems, our gal sounds plucky and on top of her game, confronting her critics on the lively "Whatchulookinat." ("The same spotlight that brought me fame/Trying to dirty up Whitney's name"), and proclaiming she is "unashamed of the life I lead"(on "Unashamed"). "My Love," a duet with Bobby Brown, is a giant raspberry to all those critical of Houston and Brown's marriage. "Things You Say" (cowritten and produced by Missy Elliott) is a slow jam that sounds like a long-lost R&B classic. Of course, amid the wheat, there's some chaff, like the cover of the Debby Boone chestnut "You Light Up My Life" and the treacly keyboards-and-strings big ballad "On My Own." Still in her third decade as a diva, Houston remains a formidable role model for American Idol wannabes, proving that a great voice goes along way toward kicking adversity in the butt.


Heat Magazine, 6 December 2002
Whitney Houston
Just Whitney...

Four out of Five Stars

In a nutshell:  When Whitney released 'My Love Is Your Love' - her first studio album for eight years - in 1998, she laid her big-haired, histrionic 80s alter-ego to rest with a sleek album of more modern groovers.  This limited release, including video footage, continues the trend.  'Just Whitney...' proper is to be released in January.

What's it like?  'Just Whitney...' takes underground 80s soul sounds and updates them with a stellar team of modern soul producers such as She'kspere and P Diddy.  Highlights include the crisply futuristic funk of new single, 'Whatchulookinat' and 'Dear John Letter', which floats shivery violins over a snazzy walking bassline.

Best Track: Bass-snappin' 80s-style groover 'Love That Man.'

Worst Track: This being a Whitney Houston album, 'You Light Up My Life' is the inevitable power-ballad - full of simpering violins and showbiz choruses.

Verdict: Tumultuous personal life aside, musically Whitney is cooler than she's ever been.

[Dom Phillips]


New York Daily News Review, 8 December 2002
Whitney wows

If Houston has a problem, it's not music

Whitney Houston
"Just Whitney"(Arista)

She has endured more bad press than Charles Manson, inspired more juicy rumors than the British royal family and stirred more speculation about her weight, and resulting health, than Calista Flockhart.

Yet on Whitney Houston's first album of all-new material in four years ? and her first since she became a tabloid bull's-eye ? she sounds healthier, spunkier and more assured in her phrasing and tone than ever.

"Just Whitney" features consistently compelling melodies, pert production and big singing that rarely suffers from the worst bugaboo of modern divas: the tendency to scuttle real emotion in the service of showy technique.

This encouraging news comes as a surprise for more reasons than Houston's personal problems, which were dealt with in vague, but still troubling, terms this past week in an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC. For the music, several red flags had already gone up in previews.

Houston's first single, "Whatchulookinat," a bitter anti-media rant released in September, bombed on radio. It even managed to get a bad review in Billboard (which is about as likely as getting a negative notice from your mom).

Houston's proposed second single was going to be a cover version of Debbie Boone's mother lode of sap, "You Light Up My Life" ? which does appear on "Just Whitney," but only as an album track.

Yet neither of these wobbly moves throws off the overall project.

A problem more suggestive of behind-the-scenes trouble is the album's length. It's 39 minutes, practically the duration of an EP by current standards. (Houston's last album, "My Love Is Your Love," lasted 60 minutes.) Whatever the reason for its brevity, much of what is on the new CD hits the ball out of the park.

The album wisely follows the trend begun by "My Love ...." in ditching most of the gooey ballads and conservative production styles that made Houston's '80s albums so frumpy. Instead, it goes for a big-time makeover.

On "Just Whitney," the star sounds contemporary without seeming to jump on any bandwagons. While she performs a track written by of-the-moment star Missy Elliott ("Things You Say"), it's rooted in solid R&B songcraft.

The cut savvily matches Houston's most supple vocals to a sexy, snaking guitar line. In "Dear John Letter," she works her vocals around a hip-hop beat that's effective enough to give the track edge, yet subtle enough so the singer doesn't seem like she's trying to act younger than her 39 years.

You'll hear just as cool a groove in "One of These Days," which recalls Houston's anthemic "It's Not Right (But It's Okay)." "Love That Man" harkens back to the singer's sprightliest club hit of the '80s, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody."

Lyrically, the album misses few opportunities to address her recently muddied image ? with references direct and covert. She kicks the album off with a declaration of stress: "Got to take time out * You don't know what I'm going through."

She becomes more confrontational on the second track, "Telling Me No." "You're so quick to say what I can do/You criticize my actions, but I don't see you standing in my shoes .... I'm just human and doing what my heart tells me I should."

In "Unashamed," Houston asserts "the strength of my choices," and ends the album with the "Whatchulookinat" answer-back song, which includes lines like, "You're after me and my man * your lies don't excite me * never knew that you would do this to me/try to ruin me and be my enemy."

If such stuff seems numbingly self-indulgent, after a few listens the sound of ax-grinding fades and the songs arise as legit expressions of self-determination. That's aided by their memorable melodies and well-placed production hooks. Most of the songs may well inspire you to sing along the first time through.

Even the number that seems the most personally defensive, "My Love" ? which lets Houston and embattled hubby Bobby Brown essentially renew their wedding vows in public ? clicks due to its old-school soul tune. Brown himself never sounded better, with a gruff and throaty vocal that would do Sam Moore proud.

The album, though, isn't without its slipups. The version of "You Light Up My Life" suffers not only from the song's unavoidable kitsch, but from trying too hard to recycle the to-the-rafters vocal blowout of "I Will Always Love You."

Yet, even there, Houston's vocal appeal isn't entirely acrobatic. Legit emotion peeks through. Elsewhere, Houston goes far further with her feelings, spinning out vocal loop-de-loops with such emotion that you may not notice at first how much supple power it takes to put them over.

In "Tell Me No," her voice has a new meatiness. In "Dear John Letter," it has a fresh sass. The question of why Houston couldn't put a few more songs on the album is as much a mystery as the full story behind the rumors still surrounding her. Regardless, the pop pleasures Houston has delivered couldn't be more clear.

Originally published on December 8, 2002


Philadelphia Enquirer, 8 December 2002

They're back, and up-front
Dethroned divas Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, climbing Comeback Hill, put carefully selected parts of their hearts on their new CDs.

Inquirer Music Critic

Weep not for Whitney Houston. Don't grieve over the travails of Mariah Carey.

For these women, charter members of the Divine Diva Sisterhood, are strong. They've loved. They've been hurt. They've been lost. Found. Torn apart by circumstance and rescued, in the final reel, by their abiding faith.

Having suffered the effects of their disastrous career and life choices, and done the requisite TV interviews to atone, each is back with new music in hand, eager to be accepted - if not loved - again, and share what she's learned about carrying on through the storm.

Houston in one of the defiant climb-every-mountain odes on her long-awaited Just Whitney, due Tuesday: "Tell me no, and I'll show you I can."

Carey on Charmbracelet, the self-actualization soundtrack that came out last week: "I know that I am strong enough to mend."

Houston, the bourgeois bohemian: "I'll live my life the way I feel, no matter what, I'm gonna keep it real, you know."

Carey, the aspiring motivational speaker: "Keep pressing on steadfastly and you'll find what you need to prevail."

(Yes, she really sings the word steadfastly, turning it into a florid mini-aria with echoes of Minnie Riperton.)

Cue up "I Will Survive" and get ready for some career-rehab melodrama. Because Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, duet partners four years ago on the Prince of Egypt single "When You Believe," are unintentionally in tandem again, storming back from the depths with heartwarming music in the key of triumph-over-adversity.

There's Houston, the 39-year-old former ingenue who ruled urban pop in the '80s, trying to make people forget about her now-acknowledged substance abuse, her arrest-prone husband, and the public appearances where she failed to show - or did show, and looked so frail and emaciated that fans were shocked.

There's Carey, the apple-cheeked 32-year-old with the five-octave range, the only singer to have a number-one hit every year of the '90s (which may say more about the decade than about her talent). She's got baggage, too: After entering into a much-publicized mega-deal with Virgin/EMI Records and self-consciously sexualizing her image, she was hospitalized in July 2001 for what was described as "extreme exhaustion" caused by overwork. Her meltdown occurred just before the release of her screen debut, Glitter, and its soundtrack, which tanked spectacularly two months later.

Since then, Carey has spent much of her time away from the cameras, brokering a new deal after Virgin/EMI paid her $20 million to void its contract, writing music, and rebuilding a relationship with her dying father as the rumor mill pondered the state of her mental health.

On their new works, Houston and Carey return to the approach that was once so magical - boilerplate urban pop in which impossibly trite expressions of devotion are redeemed by luminous vocal razzle-dazzle. With help from a predictable cast of top-shelf producers (for Houston, it's Babyface and Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs; for Carey, Jermaine Dupri and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis), each serves up what her fans expect: power ballads that celebrate or lament love, symphonic moments of squishy uplift, faintly funky pop.

Still, it's possible to detect desperation in the tracks. Pop has changed dramatically since Carey and Houston were its ruling class. Their formula is everyone's now. And for perhaps the first time in their careers, their personal setbacks seep into, if not inform, their work.

Having cruised on poise and polish, sharing just enough of themselves to get by, these once-aloof beauties known for singing the words of others are trying to invest songs of limited emotional dimension with did-it-my-way performances that make them almost confessional.

Just Whitney is very direct that way. "Whatchulookinat," a vituperative tirade straight out of the Michael Jackson media-victimization canon, castigates those "trying to dirty up Whitney's name." (Speaking in the third person, never a good sign.) And in a duet with her husband, Bobby "Pass Me That Doobie, I'm Bipolar" Brown, the two lovebirds talk a good game, but demonstrate little spark.

Houston is more compelling when she expresses resolve (as on "Unashamed" and "Try It on My Own") or facing a mountain to climb. "Dear John Letter," which shares the thoughts of a woman who's written a lover farewell but can't seal the envelope, captures the drama of being caught in the middle of a tough decision, torn up by both choices.

Despite a beautiful tone poem that grieves her father and a routine attempt at gospel ("My Saving Grace"), Carey is less forthright on Charmbracelet. As on Glitter and several previous efforts, she tries to be all things to all listeners - the independent woman and the gangsta-moll arm-candy, the wounded lover and the spiteful ex. The result is a puzzling parade of costume changes that can't disguise the midtempo sameness that dominates the only intermittently charming (and too, too long) Charmbracelet.

Carey will evidently do anything, even put up with derisive treatment, to be an official diva of the hip-hop nation. She lets Cam'Ron bark orders at her on "Boy (I Need You)," a dim rewrite of the rapper's hit "Oh Boy," and tolerates some second-rate Jay-Z rhyming on "You Got Me." Throughout, the rappers address her as "MC," as though her monogram alone confers street cred. Turns out Carey - who is credited with contributing to almost all of the committee-written songs on Charmbracelet - is better off generating her own rap-inspired heat, as she does on the taunt "You Had Your Chance" and the incandescent karma lesson "Clown," one of two cuts produced by Philadelphians Andre Harris and Vidal Davis.

The most revealing glimpses of Carey and Houston come when they stop singing the prescribed melodies, spread their arms wide, and let loose some hearty ad-libbing. Carey does her songbird-in-the-stratosphere trick at the close of several tracks. (On "You Got Me," her backing vocals are speeded up, Chipmunks-style, leading one to wonder whether vocal-processing technology helps her in other ways.) While the notes are plenty impressive, there's a feeling of empty ritual about her improvisations - she rarely puts enough of herself on the line to own a phrase fully. She hides behind melismas and curlicue explosions of virtuosity, committing herself only to the display of technique.

The brazen Houston, on the other hand, lets her heart run the show. Her voice is more brittle and less suave than it was, but she digs into the sometimes thin gruel of the songs, and does everything in her power to elevate them. When she belts an ill-advised "You Light Up My Life," she makes sure you feel the light, and when she talks about what she's been through, her tone is fierce, prideful. She's fully engaged and singing steadfastly, begging and beseeching, seeking redemption with every tortured word.


LA Times, 8 December 2002

Just Whitney and a whiff of desperation

Whitney Houston
"Just Whitney"

Houston has been a tantalizing presence since arriving on the scene in the '80s with a voice equaled for sheer beauty and command in mainstream pop only by Barbra Streisand's.

Even if we winced at the overblown pop ballads, Houston injected almost every recording with a boldness that made such rivals as Celine Dion and Mariah Carey seem bloodless and one-dimensional.

Through it all, there was always the chance that Houston would step beyond the pop gloss and use her voice in warmer and more inviting ways -- which she did by employing contemporary R&B textures in her 1998 album "My Love Is Your Love."

"Just Whitney" (in stores Tuesday) doesn't follow up on that. Houston's voice is fine, but the album is a timid outing that fails to even generate the presence her earlier hits did. There's nothing with the sheer pop celebration of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)," and this time Houston's heart doesn't seem to be in the overblown pop, including a version of "You Light Up My Life."

Responding to tabloid rumors about problems in her personal life, Houston strikes back at outsiders ("Whatchulookinat?), defends her lifestyle ("Unashamed") and toasts her marriage (a duet with hubby Bobby Brown on "My Love").

Mostly, "Just Whitney" suffers from the sense of career desperation that surrounded Michael Jackson's recent CDs. She and four dozen writers and producers work so hard finding another hit, they lose track of the human qualities that made her music so formidable.

-- Robert Hilburn

New York Post, 10 December 2002
Whitney Houston, Just Whitney...

From admitted drug use, to weight loss that has made her look skeletal, to her wacky uber-diva power trip with a children's chorus at Lincoln Center on Sunday, there's plenty of fuel for Whitney watchers to burn - but an inability to sing is not one of those logs.

Houston's new album, "Just Whitney . . .," is a 10-song testament to the 39-year-old singer's vocal gift that brings her from earthy growls to pure, crystalline high notes.

To ensure that this collection was as good as possible, Houston snagged top-shelf songwriters and producers like Missy Elliott, Babyface, She'kspere and Teddy "I-wish-I-had-a-nickname" Bishop.

Houston's voice sounds great, and she is in total control of her instrument as she works the ballad-heavy program.

This disc seems to have a theme of survival at its core, but you can't read much from the lyrics about Houston's personal life because she wrote only the final track, called "Whatyoulookinat."

Every song on this disc is penned by one of her associates except for the final track, the peppy yet cranky ode to the Fourth Estate called "Whatchulookinat," where Houston gripes about how the press put her on a pedestal just to knock her down.

"My Love," an R&B power duet between Houston and her husband, Bobby Brown, ranks as one of the disc's best, featuring a bright melody and an inventive arrangement.

But Houston zigs when she should have zagged on the remake of the odious Debbie Boone standard "You Light Up My Life." No doubt this was an attempt to snatch the kind of glory she got when she remade Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You."

Still, "You Light Up My Life" will easily find its way to lite radio formats that would never consider the excellent, syncopated hip-hop crank of "Dear John Letter" or the up-tempo devotional "Love That Man."

Houston has a solid fan base, and this is the kind of disc that will get their seal of approval. It may even garner the singer a few new young supporters.


Whitney Houston's Crackerjack Comeback

By Sean Daly
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, December 11, 2002; Page C01

When a skittish and skeletal Whitney Houston, detailing the extent of her drug use, blurted, "Crack is whack" on "PrimeTime Live" last week, the beleaguered pop diva crept that much closer to the perilous Michael Jackson Line. That, of course, is the turning point when it becomes all but impossible to enjoy an artist's stellar creative output because of said artist's nonstop bizarro antics (e.g., the King of Pop's off-the-wall desire to make his nose look like an electrical socket). And over the past decade -- or roughly the same amount of time she's been hitched to trouble magnet Bobby Brown -- tabloid-fodder Houston has certainly been beelining for Neverland.

But in a rather surprising twist, the 39-year-old woman who seemed so desperate dishing to Diane Sawyer sounds anything but on her new album, "Just Whitney . . .," a swooning throwback to her soft-focus R&B beginnings. It's a relatively gutsy move for someone who's seen her once-brilliant star power dim so drastically. Despite current pop trends, Houston sees no need for the hard hip-hop beats and swaggering rap trimmings preferred by fellow golden throat Mariah Carey. Instead, she strips things down for 10 uncluttered tracks and relies mainly on the one glorious constant in her mixed-up life: her for-the-ages voice.

"Just Whitney . . ." is Houston's first album without longtime mentor and producer Clive Davis. Instead, Houston relies on Antonio "L.A." Reid and husband Brown, guys not exactly known for their musical subtlety. Despite the drastic change at the controls, however, this is Houston's most positive and natural-sounding album since the '80s. "This is just for me," Houston says at the start of the likably bouncy first single, "One of Those Days." And that's certainly a step in the right direction.

Big, bright choruses abound on the G-rated "Just Whitney . . .," which features more than 20 songwriters, including such top-notch pop scribes as Missy Elliott, Babyface and Carole Bayer Sager. And although Houston inserts her trademark trills in, over and around positive-thinking lyrics, she never resorts to glass-shattering vocal histrionics. With those pipes, she doesn't have to.

"Tell Me No" is a catchy bit of female empowerment in the face of a wayward paramour -- kind of the anti-"Saving All My Love for You." Houston remains a thoroughly independent woman on "Try It on My Own," a slow-building ballad similar to her hits "Didn't We Almost Have It All" and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go."

"I live my life without regrets," she sings on "Unashamed," reminding us not to believe everything we read in the paper. And on the fun, funky "Whatchulookinat," Houston sasses back to people "trying to dirty up Whitney's name" with a dance-floor-appropriate track as infectious as anything she's done.

As far as gossip material is concerned, "Just Whitney . . ." lacks super-juicy stuff. Sure, Jay Leno can probably mine a few jokes from "My Love," on which Houston and Brown celebrate their 10 years of matrimony in strictly ho-hum Hallmarkian sentiment. And in trying to stir up some "I Will Always Love You" magic, Houston manages to make the definitive cover of Debby Boone's saptastic "You Light Up My Life" -- which isn't saying much, since the tune has always been a clunker. That said, Houston is obviously singing to a higher power here, and when she lets loose for the karaoke fave's big finish, there's some genuine honesty and emotion to be found in those sky-high notes.

Who knows what touch of absurdity Houston and Brown will reveal for their next dubious headline grab? But for now at least, the refreshingly old-school "Just Whitney . . ." reminds us of a time when Houston was the Queen of Pop -- and it wasn't nasty to say so.


People Magazine, 14 December 2002
Whitney Houston, Just Whitney...

On only the fifth studio album in her 17-year career, Whitney Houston proves that less is sometimes just less. These 10 songs, totaling a mere 39 minutes, seem downright skimpy by today's lengthy CD standards. It does not help that only about half of these tunes remotely measure up to the superstar expectations one has for Houston. That's roughly half as many good cuts as were on the pop diva's last studio disc, 1998's far superior My Love Is Your Love. The album is heavy on midtempo R&B numbers like "My Love," Houston's second recorded duet with hubby Bobby Brown, which fails to improve on 1992's "Something in Common." While Houston's uninspired cover of Debby Boone's 1977 smash "You Light Up My Life" doesn't work magic the way that her version of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" did, she could have used more ballads like the Missy Elliott-produced retro slow jam "Things You Say" and the Babyface-produced belter "Try It On My Own."

BOTTOM LINE: Weak Whitney


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
CD Spotlight: Whitney Houston's 'Just Whitney'
Last Updated: Dec. 12, 2002
"Just Whitney" is music with a sneer.


Whitney Houston's addictions - chemical and relational - have been a tabloid staple for at least a decade. On her new Arista album, "Just Whitney,"she answers back in tune after defiant tune.

"Love That Man" is a defense of oft-arrested spouse Bobby Brown: "He may not be perfect/But he's all the man I need." "Try It on My Own" is a bark of independence: "I'll live my life the way I feel/No matter what I'm keepin' real." "Unashamed" is a 21-gun salvo at the critics: "I live my life without regrets/What you see is what you see is what you see." "Whatchulookinat" is a counter roundhouse at the media: "I don't understand why you keep peepin' me, when you don't even like me . . ./You're after me and my man."

All that musical feuding probably seems a little odd for an artist who has built much of her reputation on full-bodied love songs, but "Just Whitney" is actually some of Houston's best work in a long time. The duet with Brown, "My Love," is a catchy slice of old school R&B. "One of Those Days" celebrates finding refuge from life's stresses in simple little indulgences like a late-night snack, a bubble bath and a massage. "Try It on My Own" is the kind of soaring and affirmative ballad that Houston has built her career on.

Indignation and defensiveness are not the usual emotional staples of good R&B, but for true divas they're as natural as respiration. Houston is more interesting infuriated than infatuated. She should stay hacked off.

- Dave Tianen


The San Francisco Chronicle
HEADLINE: Tracks of their tears
BYLINE: Neva Chonin
Just Whitney . . . Arista, $18.98

Sometimes just being Whitney just isn't enough. Featuring an all-star roster of producers that includes Missy Elliott, Shek'spere and Babyface, "Just Whitney . . ." finds pop R&B's onetime diva supreme scrambling to get back to where she once belonged. By the sound of it, she has a ways to go.

"Just Whitney . . ." has been hyped as a righteous slap in the faces of naysayers who claim that la Houston is a real-life Neely O'Hara, the doll who descended into the valley and lost her way home. It would be a welcome slap: In a time of digitally enhanced vocals and lip-synching pop tarts, being decked by a real Voice would seem painfully sweet. Unfortunately, "Just Whitney . . ." doesn't stretch far enough to connect. This is a supremely safe album that taxes neither Houston's voice nor her stylistic range (if covering Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" isn't large-screen target practice, nothing is).

Worse, "Just Whitney . . ." feigns candor when in fact it only dissembles: The middle-of-the-road "My Love," a duet with Bobby Brown, coats a mercurial relationship with so much sugar it hurts; "Tell Me No" tries to turn a self-righteous screed into an anthem of empowerment. Mistakes are spiritual experiences ("Unashamed"); Whitney is misunderstood, the media is bad ("Whatchulookinat").

For all its gear-grinding solipsism, "Just Whitney . . ." boasts a few winning moments. The Elliott-produced "Things You Say" finds Houston drawling and yowling with slow, soulful sensuality. The soppy but effective "Try It on My Own" succeeds where "Tell Me No" fails by switching focus from the Whitney-specific to more universal (if cliched) travails.

In the end, the over-hyped comeback is a major shortfall. "Just Whitney . . ." shows signs of life, but not enough to declare a resurrection.

-- Neva Chonin

Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, Dec. 11, 2002
Houston should stick to singing, not talking
By Tony Hicks

IF WHITNEY HOUSTON is a mess -- and consensus is that she is -- it's not carrying over to her much-hyped new release.

In what must be considered a surprising step toward winning back the fans she's managed to alienate the past few years, "Just Whitney" capitalizes on Houston's strengths without overly catering to what's hip.

At the same time, Houston isn't stuck in her extremely successful past. Well, not totally. Instead, she relies on good, fairly sparse production letting her voice carry the record. She's firing off lyrics that obviously mean something to her and sounds like she's regained the energy and focus that drove her career a decade ago.

All of which makes you wonder why they let her go get weird on television with Diane Sawyer.

It's clear Houston needs a career boost, and her handlers will even risk letting her foolishly babble on television. What's ironic is that, even though her career has stalled over allegations of drug use, eating disorders, not keeping commitments, etc., this record can stand on its own. If anything, she's hurting herself by talking too much.

Houston will likely never be as big as she once was, but this record makes clear she's not done by a long shot, which can't be said for fellow fallen diva Mariah Carey, who's also on the comeback trail.

So if you're keeping score at home, it's Whitney, 1; Mariah, zip. If you love your '90s megaseller R&B voices, Houston's album is twice the investment of Carey's, if for no other reason that, where Carey still sounds like a torn teen writing syrupy and pleading diary entries, Houston sounds like a confident adult.

"Just Whitney" lacks the sugary ballads, understanding that a slow song can groove without sounding desperate. For all the peripheral ego-trash floating around her and Carey, Houston was the only one who shook off the desperation and made a good record. The title is appropriate, as she managed to leave the other stuff at the studio door.

It's not a classic record, lacking the obvious smash singles of old or anything remotely new. But that doesn't mean there are no potential moderate hits, including a straight cover of "You Light Up My Life." It's a song that someone should have put out to pasture years ago, but Houston tackles it with some simple soul power.

That's what makes you nuts about Whitney Houston. Her gospel-Howitzer voice can even make a lousy Debbie Boone song palatable. She finds a comfortable groove throughout the whole record, even the funk-lite, anti-media rant of "Whatchulookinat," a much-maligned song when released over the Internet a few months early.

The problem with "Whatchulookinat" may have turned into a blessing. The first new Houston song to grace anyone's ears carried huge expectations it didn't fulfill. It's not a great song, but it's not that bad either (despite the third-person wallowing). Consequently, it may have lowered the bar for the rest of the record.

The only spot where her determination gets a bit much is on "Try it on My Own," where she treads dangerously close to relying on simple, comeback cliches "No matter what I'll keep it real," etc.

Houston abandons the Lauryn Hill organic yet somehow short-lived funk for what she knows: slow- to moderate-tempo songs with good hooks, effective arrangements, and lots of room for singing. Right off the bat, "One of These Days" and the spunky "Tell Me No" sets the formula.

Considering Houston's personal life, it's easy to listen to the record and wait for the car wreck. It never comes -- not even the groovin' duet on "My Love" with husband/has-been Bobby Brown. They sound good together, which makes it even more curious that he doesn't have much of a career anymore.

"Dear John Letter" is a great vehicle for Houston's sass, a modern sound with big harmonies and some attitude. It's something she's tried before without being overly convincing. Maybe it works here because it's unexpected.

That could easily be said for the whole record.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 12/10/02

Whitney 'Just' gets better with time

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Pop Music Critic

"Just Whitney"
Whitney Houston. Arista. 10 tracks.
Grade: B+

The big myth is that Whitney Houston began her career as a great singer and slowly devolved, a victim of drink, drugs and high-maintenance love. But the truth is that her singing has only gotten richer over these hard years. She now must employ subtle phrasing to sell a song, where she once used bluster. And, Lord knows, her 10-year marriage to bad boy Bobby Brown has given her plenty to sing about.

On "Just Whitney," her first album of new material since 1998, out today, Houston comes off as everything she wasn't during her recent TV interview with Diane Sawyer: warm, lucid, open and sharp. The record tells the story of a woman determined to live and love as she pleases, despite the warnings of others and even her own good sense.

"At times, I know I don't deserve you," she muses on "Things You Say," the album's finest moment and one of the best performances of her 17-year career. This swaying, church-leaning ballad, penned by Missy Elliott and her protégée Tweet, among others, is all about a woman who's the willful victim of a sweet-talking man. Houston's voice roars and trembles, rushes and stalls, speaking volumes about the intoxicating, sometimes overwhelming rush of love, and making "Things You Say" a perfect soul song.

There are many other notable cuts too, among them "One of Those Days," a breezy girls'-night-out, and "Dear John Letter," which starts as a kiss-off but ends as yet another song about a woman who's conflicted over her relationship. Then there are surprises like "My Love," a midtempo duet with Brown. If their real-life chemistry is anything like it sounds on this cut, it's no wonder they've been together for a decade.

The biggest misstep on the album is the defensive "Whatchulookinat." If the jittery, bone-thin Houston still needs to ask what we're looking at, she obviously hasn't gazed into the mirror lately.

But this is a rare slip on an otherwise skillfully rendered collection. Houston even manages to bring conviction to a cover of Debby Boone's saccharine "You Light Up My Life." When Houston sings about sitting by her window "waiting for someone to sing me his song," it's almost redemptive.

Finally she's become a singer who can transcend the song.


USA Today, 10 December 2002
Whitney Houston, Just Whitney...

Just Bad Vibes
(2.5 stars out of 4)

There was a time when the drama Whitney Houston created with her voice, not the turmoil surrounding her personal life, was what got people talking. Unfortunately, that time has passed.

Four years ago, My Love Is Your Love refocused attention on her vocal prowess after eight years without a studio album.

Her new Just Whitney, however, homes in on her irritation with the public scrutiny she and her husband, Bobby Brown, attract.

At least half of the 10 tracks on the brief 39-minute set (an enhanced special edition comes with a DVD of videos) take off on the I-did-it-my-way theme. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that, because some artists do their best work when they are the primary subject. But the results in this case are uneven at best.

On Tell Me No, Houston shows moxie by standing up to naysayers who try to hold her down. But then she turns petty, scolding, "Can't wait for the day I can rub things in your face."

Whatchulookinat, released as a single in August to an indifferent radio reception, finds a testy Whitney fussing about the attention paid to her.

She comes off much better on Unashamed, on which she counts her blessings and is unapologetic for how she chooses to live her life. Similarly, the most entertaining song is probably My Love, a duet with Brown that's a gleeful we-told-you-so to those who never thought the couple would make it together for 10 years.

As usual, Houston works with an A-list of producers, which includes Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, Missy Elliott and Babyface.

The music is decidedly less pop and more soulful than much of her previous work. One of Those Days, which borrows its melody from the Isley Brothers' Between the Sheets, gets the album off to a nice start as she sings of the need to get away from life's stresses.

But overall, the energy level doesn't seem as high as you might expect.

On My Love Is Your Love, an artistic and commercial triumph, songs such as the uplifting, reggae-flavored title track and the edgy Heartbreak Hotel, featuring Faith Evans and Kelly Price, were jolts of excitement of the sort you don't feel here.

Houston rarely soars on this album, something she once did with regularity. She used to rescue sappy songs such as this album's You Light Up My Life with gospel-fired fervor, but that clear, powerful voice doesn't have the same ring that elevated earlier hits such as The Greatest Love of All.

At her best, Houston is full of sass and attitude and, most of all, joy. But with so much emphasis on what's bothering her, you can't help but wonder whether the thrill is gone.


NJ Star Ledger, 6 December 2002
Whitney Houston, Just Whitney...

By Dan Leroy

During the years of unsavory rumors surrounding her, Whitney defenders insisted her music would erase all concerns. Well, here's her new album at last: now it's time to really worry. She can still sing--the stories about her losing her range, or her voice itself, are demonstrably false--but that's about the only positive to take away from the mess that is Just Whitney, even though the fault isn't just Whitney's.

Can anyone explain how the world's savviest R&B executives could relaunch a purported drug addict with "Whatchulookinat?," a single pulsing with a dope fiend's paranoia? More troublingly, how could they fill her album with grooves that would have sounded tired when all the rumors first started? The polite "One Of Those Days" sounds like an outtake from Brandy's debut, while the cover of "You Light Up My Life" would've been a cute idea in 1996 or so. Missy Elliott's sultry slow jam "Things You Say" provides the only real link to the present, other than Whitney's periodic denunciations of her doubters. Unfortunately, there'll be plenty more of them now.


Columbus Dispatch, 14 December 2002

By Aaron Beck

Some people can snort rope chains and pull them out of their mouths. Some people can sing with five-octave voices. Neither group ought to abuse their talents.

R&B singers Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey are public enemies No. 1 and 2.

As on every one of her albums since 1990, Carey's voice on Charmbracelet is interesting in the way a "classically trained'' heavy-metal guitarist's solos are interesting.

Hmm. Wow. A human can do that?

Five minutes later, the thrill subsides, especially when one pays attention to the words: junior-high playground clips and phrases twisted into Oprah sentiments. (Sample lyric: "I don't want to be hurt again'').

A few years ago, Carey's balladry went hip-hop. But street cred is tough to develop if you've sold millions and once were married to the guy who owned the record company that "discovered you.''

Anyway, she continues the cultivation, hiring Jay-Z, Jermaine Dupri, Ice Cube, Freeway and Cam'ron to guest rap.

The result: patched-together noise on computers with grown men in giant football jerseys saying, "Yeah, yeah,'' "C'mon'' and "Mariah, Mariah, yeah, yeah,'' between bursts of Carey's voice, which can pierce the eardrum like air screaming through a pinched balloon.

Houston wails on Just Whitney, but at least she does so with the awareness that Missy Elliott, outlaw husband Bobby Brown and everyone else was in the studio to work on songs rather than witness a braying exhibition.

Her voice sounds huskier, smokier and warmer than in the past. Real musicians play real instruments on this album. The hip-hop beats are subtly blended with the contemporary funk.

The ballads are as good as any of the cries from the mountaintops Houston has sung during her career -- especially her take on You Light Up My Life.

When she sings bedroom R&B or lashes out at naysayers, unlike Carey (or Shania Twain or Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera), Houston comes off as emotionally attached to the words she sings.

When she says God is on her side, God won't do no half-steppin'.

When she says she will stand by her man, she will be there with bail money. When she sings in third person, Whitney will know what Whitney wants.

When she snears at mudslingers that their lies don't "excite'' her, mudslingers take note.

To her credit, Houston, bless her merciful heart, does it all in a quick 10 songs.

Thirty-two-year-old Carey, who operates under the illusion that she is a coy 16-year-old, unleashes 15 long songs and says nothing.


Calgary Sun, Tuesday, December 17, 2002
Whitney delivers

Whitney Houston, JUST WHITNEY ...

The reports of Whitney Houston's death, it would appear, are greatly exaggerated.

Not only physically, as the diva's recent interview with Diane Sawyer dispelled, but also in regards to her career, which gets a major kickstart thanks to Just Whitney ..., Houston's first album of new material in four years.

Forget the sideshow, forget the gossip talk about her tumultuous relationship with jailbird Bobby Brown, ignore her emaciated scarecrow performance at the Michael Jackson fete. Even put aside her crazed primetime "crack is whack" conversation with Sawyer, and give Houston the benefit of the doubt when it comes to her voice and the material she chooses.

If you do, Just Whitney ... won't disappoint.

It finds her in fine form, showcasing those incredible pipes that launched a thousand imitators. And it shows up all of those followers with recent releases -- including Mariah Carey and Celine Dion -- because not only does Houston have the lungs, but she has the soul.

That's what shines through on the album's predominantly mid-tempo but far from repetitive tracks, which are produced with an understanding and respectful ear by a handful of producers such as Babyface and Missy Elliott.

Even the excellent bouncy duet with Brown, My Love, transcends every interior codependant wisecrack you could come up with because it has a great deal of personality and emotion.

Maybe because of everything that's happened in her past, maybe because of the sideshow, she has the ability to give the songs real feeling, real life.

That's certainly not something you'd expect from a stiff.


The Dallas Morning News, 22 December 2002
Whitney Answers Her Critics

However, her personal agenda isn't interesting when set to music


Grade C-

In a strange case of art imitating tabloid TV, Just Whitney sounds like a musical addendum to the singer's recent 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer.

"One of Those Days" kicks off the CD with the rumor-plagued diva admitting she needs to take better care of herself. On the next song, "Tell Me No," she vows to make a triumphant comeback: "Tell me I can't win, I'll prove you wrong ... I'll reach the top, I'm No. 1."

During "My Love," husband Bobby Brown arrives to tell everyone their marriage is A-OK, but he seems just as confused as he did on 20/20: "It's been 10 years since we've been married, right?" he asks at the start of the song. Ms. Houston quickly chimes in with "Love That Man," a song about loving your hubby for better or worse.

The second half of the disc is basically Ms. Houston telling the world to mind its own beeswax. In one song, she proclaims she's "unashamed of the life I lead." In case you didn't get the drift, she rephrases it in another tune: "I'll live my life the way I feel/No matter what, I'll keep it real."

She ends the CD on an angry note with "Whatchulookinat," a slap against all the evil gossip-mongers who want to "dirty up Whitney's name."

With so many Whitney-centric songs, you'd assume the singer wrote all the lyrics on Just Whitney. In reality, she co-wrote just one song, leaving the rest to a team of tunesmiths led by the ubiquitous Babyface – a decision that's par for the course on a CD dominated by slick, predictable R&B.

To be fair, there are genuinely catchy beats and hooks scattered across Just Whitney. In particular, Ms. Houston really finds her groove in "Things You Say," a slinky neo-soul tune co-written and produced by Missy Elliott.

Yet the bulk of the album sounds like watered down Destiny's Child ("Whatchulookinat," "Dear John Letter") and second-rate Michael Jackson ("Try It On My Own," "Love That Man"). Even Ms. Houston's soaring pipes can't save the bombastic, Babyface-produced remake of "You Light Up My Life."

The best thing that can be said about the disc is that it doesn't overstay its welcome. In an age of tedious 76-minute CDs, Just Whitney limits her tediousness to a mere 39 minutes.


Rolling Stone, 3 January 2003
Whitney Houston, Just Whitney...

2 Stars

The decline of Whitney Houston's career has run in rough parallel to her marriage to New Edition castoff Bobby Brown -- every year, she seems to spend less time on her music. On 1998's My Love Is Your Love, she somehow managed to milk bravado-filled, manic greatness from her firestorm relationship. But Just Whitney lacks any fire whatsoever. Both "Dear John Letter" and "Unashamed" could have been the songs on which Houston bit back with ferocity, but instead she plays it timid. The dance-floor numbers- -- "Whatchulookinat" and "One of Those Days" -- are creaky and unconvincing. Most disappointing is her rendition of the lounge standard "You Light Up My Life." With "I Will Always Love You," Houston showed she could take a classic song and make it all her own; this cover, though, only shows an artist vainly trying to reach for what her future once could have been.

ET Online Review, 11 December 2002
Whitney Houston, Just Whitney...

By Tim Jaramillo
Pop diva WHITNEY HOUSTON is more than just a great vocalist. Her music has influenced an entire generation of female singers. In addition to selling 120 million records, 50 million of her singles have moved off shelves thus far. And with the release of her new album, Just Whitney, those numbers are sure to rise rapidly!

The legendary singer has definitely stepped up to the plate on her latest effort. She seeks out new stylistic territory and explores the emotional and tonal potential of her voice.

Just Whitney kicks off with the groovy single, "One of Those Days." It's a smoky track with a feel-good, chilled-out vibe. The song is already enjoying extensive airplay on both pop and R&B stations. "Tell Me No" is an expansive tune that lends itself well to Whitney's powerful vocal delivery.

When you put on "Things You Say," you had better turn the lights down low, because this song is all about gettin' the lovin' on! The buttery-smooth song was produced and co-written by hip-hop wonder MISSY ELLIOTT. "My Love" is accented by tasty acoustic guitar plucking, and a touching appearance by hubby BOBBY BROWN.

On "You Light Up My Life," Whitney shows off her vocal chops, belting out the sweet melodies with aplomb. And to spice things up, "Whatchulookinat" flips the script with a decidedly hip-hop feel.

Whitney has been through some challenging times in her personal life, including rumors in the tabloids, encounters with drugs, and ups and downs with Bobby. She recently agreed to an interview with DIANE SAWYER, in which she came clean on everything. The show enjoyed record ratings: the "Primetime" show was the highest-rated telecast of any newsmagazine on any network in over 3-1/2 years.

Indeed, Whitney has stood her ground amidst the chaos of her life, and will continue to do so. According to Whitney, "This album for me is about surviving, raising a family, being a wife or girlfriend and all the challenges that go along with those things."


All Music Guide Review
Artist Whitney Houston
Album Title Just Whitney

Date of Release Dec 10, 2002
AMG Rating *** (out of 5)
Genre Rock
Tones Elegant, Stylish, Sensual, Refined/Mannered, Romantic
Styles Urban, Adult Contemporary, Quiet Storm

The four-year wait between 2002's Just Whitney and her previous album, 1998's My Love Is Your Love, was half that between that record and its predecessor, 1990's I'm Your Baby Tonight, but it felt twice the length, since Whitney Houston's career nose-dived during those four years. She retreated from the spotlight and as she cancelled concerts, scrapped albums, and pulled out of public appearances, rumors swirled that she and husband Bobby Brown were dangerously addicted to drugs. Following a disastrous performance at the September 2001 Michael Jackson tribute concert, where she looked as if she had already wasted away, the chattering reached a fever pitch and she needed to restore her reputation — hence the title of Just Whitney, an assertion that she's returning to her basics. But that's not the half of it. As her trainwreck interview with Diane Sawyer on PrimeTime Live the week prior to Just Whitney's release proved, she's arrogantly defensive about her "bad habits" and is "Unashamed" of "the life that [she] leads," as she sings on the eighth song on this odd, disarmingly brief (under 40 minutes) self-styled comeback album. Just listen to the first single, the roundly ignored "Whatchulookinat" (produced by husband Brown, who Whitney thanks for being the best producer in the world, although he only helmed this track on the album), where she plays the victim, claiming that the gossip-mongers "messing with my reputation/ain't you got no education...don't even have a clue about what I'm facin'," coming across as if she had something to hide. It's a sentiment that runs throughout the album — phrases like "you don't know what I'm goin' through" and "you criticize my actions/even though you don't stand in my shoes" pop up regularly — and undermines an album that's otherwise a not-bad set of contemporary soul. Certainly, Whitney is in better voice than rival diva Mariah Carey (whose near simultaneously released Charmbracelet found her voice in tatters) and she's fortunate enough to have Babyface for four productions, three of which are among the highlights of the album. Though Missy Elliott produces a track here, this is nowhere near as concerned with hip production as My Love was and who can blame her? When a career is on the rocks, it's best to play it safe. And that's what Just Whitney is: a measured attempt to salvage a career that's on the verge of destruction. Does it work? Well, musically, it's not bad, though few songs are memorable. It would be a good standard-issue Whitney album if it wasn't for her disarming, defensive attempt to defuse every rumor hurled in her direction. Even an otherwise innocuous duet with Brown is presented like it's the two of them against the world, nearly celebrating the fact that Bobby's voice is very strained these days. Worst of all, there seems to be nobody to check Whitney and prevent her from indulging in bad ideas. After all, surely somebody in the Houston camp should have realized that at this crucial time in her career, as she admits drug "habits," that covering "You Light Up My Life" might not be the smartest move to make right now. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine 


LA Weekly, 24-30 January 2003
Whitney Houston, Just Whitney...
The Diva In Ms. Houston

By Ernest Hardy

AS THE THUNDERPUSS REMIX OF WHITNEY HOUSTON’S womanist anthem/gay-boy club classic, “It’s Not Right, but It’s Okay,” blasted through the speakers one recent night at La Plaza, the largely Latino queer crowd went wild, throwing their arms in the air and turning toward the stage in anticipation of drag-queen heaven. When a fierce Latin she-male finally took the stage, decked out in a see-through pantsuit and a flawless replica of the wig that Whitney wears on the cover of her new CD, Just Whitney, the Behind the Music realness that she served floated right over the audience’s uncomprehending heads. Pressing her eyelids tightly together as though it pained her to think, wobbling slightly in her heels and wearing a glazed look in her eyes — all while intentionally flubbing her lip-synching — the faux Whitney quickly transformed the ecstatic crowd into a still-life painting. This was not the diva of their dreams, the one who has inspired hairbrush-microphone concerts in the privacy of bedrooms. This was the Whitney of tabloids and rumor, the one who recently stared down Diane Sawyer with the not-so-subtle implication that she wanted to kick Sawyer’s ass, dismissing speculation on her drug of choice with the ready-made sound bite “Crack is wack.” (Within days of the interview’s television broadcast, a bootleg DVD of it was being hawked on eBay.) That the faux femme at La Plaza brilliantly, mercilessly captured this ragged incarnation of Houston scored her no points with the faithful.

Dubbed dead before it even hit shelves, Just Whitney is nowhere near the disaster that many have claimed. It’s easily the second best overall effort of Houston’s career (coming in right behind 1998’s admittedly sleeker, relatively baggage-free My Love Is Your Love, with which it shares roughly the same ratio of gems to duds). Even more easily, Whitney trumps other recent (and for the most part critically and commercially disappointing) comeback attempts by such R&B stalwarts as Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, Deborah Cox and TLC. These are truly hard times for divas.

The first lie to put to rest is that Whitney’s voice is shot; it’s not. No, it doesn’t have the startling purity or far-reaching range that it once did, but so what? It now has character and shading. Forced to root around inside her own shit in order to deliver a line, she’s no longer able to coast on her jaw-dropping technique and crystalline instrument — and she’s a far more interesting singer because of that. Check the gossamer hoarseness with which she croons the album’s best track, the Missy Elliott–produced and –co-written “Things You Say.” In mood, arrangement and production, Missy and Whitney flawlessly channel the longing ballads of the ’70s-era Isley Brothers (who are also sampled on the underrated single, “One of Those Days”). And for those who absolutely demand it, she can still belt as powerfully on saccharine bullshit as anyone around, as she amply demonstrates on the Babyface-produced bit of I’mmon luv myself treacle, “Try It on My Own.” She shines on giddily disposable tracks like “Love That Man,” where she evokes up-tempo tunes from her pop-princess past like “How Will I Know” and “So Emotional,” and on the duet “My Love,” where she and husband Bobby “King of R&B” Brown drop-kick naysayers with a joyous back-and-forth that declares their devotion to each other.

That Whitney feels under attack is apparent from a quick scan of the CD’s track listing — “Tell Me No,” “Unashamed,” “Whatchulookinat.” Throughout are lyrics that drip with defiance and defensiveness (“You criticize my actions/But I don’t see you standing in my shoes/I’m ‘going the wrong way’/I’m ‘doing the wrong things’/Every word just gives me fuel”). Even the album’s moments of levity (“Love That Man,” “One of Those Days”) are grounded in retort. Just Whitney comes hard with autobiography from a woman whose song choices have often seemed coldly removed from anything she really cared about. (This airing of her psyche backfires only once, on the album’s failed first single, “Whatchulookinat,” where Bobby Brown’s spoken intro — “It’s time for you to strike back/They’re lookin’ at you . . . /They’re watching your every move” — plays like the paranoid brain farts of, well, a crackhead.)

Like Michael Jackson, another diva on the moist side of a meltdown, Whitney Houston has seemingly taken her cues from the old-school handbook: She’s very Judy Garland these days. But as with that patron saint of the drugged and resilient, Houston’s recent travails have added pathos to her voice, grit to the material she applies it to. On “One of Those Days,” when she moans, “You don’t know what I’ve been going through,” the song leaps beyond its work-sucks-the-rent’s-late-I-need-a-date griping into the realm of existential letting. It’s in the voice.


Walmart.com Review
Whitney Houston
Just Whitney...

It's difficult to convey just how big a star Whitney Houston is. Her accomplishments as both a singer and an actress have brought her enormous adulation and acclaim. In her music career, she stands as one of the most successful female artists of all time. Among her achievements: a run of seven consecutive No. 1 hit singles; the biggest single in rock history ('I Will Always Love You'); the all-time best-selling debut album by a female performer (Whitney Houston, 13 million copies sold in the U.S. alone); the first album by a female performer to debut at No.1 (Whitney, 9 million copies sold in the U.S.); and six Grammy awards. The list goes on, and so does Houston's remarkable career. Now, with her seventh album of new material, Just Whitney, she continues her evolution from pop princess to R& B diva.

Opening with the easy dance groove of 'One of Those Days,' the R&B tone is set early with Whitney doing the "quiet storm" thing. Some sweet brass comes in late and adds a little Motown spice. 'Tell Me No' is a big-sound ballad that finds the sultry singer cutting loose vocally and taking a shot at her critics: "Come on and tell me no/ And I'll show you I can/ And tell me no/ I'll dig my feet right in/ Tell me no/ Just tell me that I can't win/ C'mon, I'm sure I'll prove you wrong."

'My Love' is a down-beat, dance-joint duet with husband Bobby Brown, while 'Love That Man' picks up the tempo and harks back to earlier, pop oriented Whitney material. 'Try It On My Own' is an emotive ballad that builds gradually to a strings-laden peak, the dance track, 'Dear John Letter' is "urban Whitney" all the way. 'Unashamed' is a mid-tempo dance number with denser arrangements than most contemporary R&B, and the first single, 'Whatchulookinat,' a dance cut with disco strings, finds that famous voice getting a little down-n-dirty. And check out Whitney doing the soul thing on the laid back, organ-laced 'Things You Say.' It's a highlight.

One of the most intriguing songs on the album is a cover of the classic, 'You Light Up My Life.' For many singers, taking on this timeless hit would be too big of a bite to chew; for Whitney Houston it is the ideal vehicle for her powerful and enchanting voice.

Whitney Houston has scaled the heights and viewed the music world from its very pinnacle, and every new release from this legendary singer is much anticipated. With Just Whitney, another chapter in Houston's illustrious career has been written. Slip it into your CD player, press 'play,' and enjoy.

By Adrian Zupp



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