Music Week Review
Music Week Review, Issue
16 November 2002
Guardian Review, 22 November 2002
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.
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
22 November 2002
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 Its Not Right but Its 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 cant 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. Im unashamed of the life that I lead, unashamed of the strength of my need.
Good for you, girl. Just dont get too comfortable with it.
[Review is very similar to the Ceefax review which was also written by
-- Nigel Packer
24 November 2002 (Swedish review)
Det var den här skivan Toni Braxton skulle ha gjort.
Translation of pertinent comments (Thanks Michael
Der Tagesspiegel (Germen Review)
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/ Im 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
Jennifer Lopez and Whitney Houston, they both want to know whos 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, thats 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: Houstons 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 didnt 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 Im turning [...] Whitneys 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, Whitneys record company is confident, as they were telling the New York Times: "Whitney is well. She looks great."
Shes 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 Jennifers 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 cant change that.
Pop: New Releases: Whitney Houston: Just Whitney
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, shes 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 cant 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 Aristas 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)
"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.
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."
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.
ABS-CBNNews.com Review, 29
By JON PARELES
For divas and would-be divas, a voice and a batch of potential hit songs arent 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. Theyre 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 Whitneys 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 shes no gold digger and he admits shes not like other girls. Houstons voice sails and spirals through breathy ballads, staccato constructions and big-build anthems; shes 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 shes see-thing, shes graceful.
22 November 2002
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
Blues & Soul
November 19 - December 2 Page 50
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.
Mariah and J-Lo airbrush their private lives, so it's a candid Whitney who wins the seasonal battle of the belters
Sunday December 1, 2002
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
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
13 December 2002
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
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.
New York Daily News Review, 8
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.
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.
-- Robert Hilburn
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
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
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."
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
Contra Costa Times
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
USA Today, 10 December 2002
Just Bad Vibes
By Steve Jones, USA TODAY
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.
Ledger, 6 December 2002
By Dan Leroy
Columbus Dispatch, 14
The Dallas Morning News, 22
However, her personal agenda isn't interesting
when set to music
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
Rolling Stone, 3 January
ET Online Review, 11 December
By Tim Jaramillo
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
24-30 January 2003
AS THE THUNDERPUSS REMIX OF WHITNEY HOUSTONS womanist anthem/gay-boy club classic, Its Not Right, but Its 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 audiences 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 Sawyers ass, dismissing speculation on her drug of choice with the ready-made sound bite Crack is wack. (Within days of the interviews 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. Its easily the second best overall effort of Houstons career (coming in right behind 1998s 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 Whitneys voice is shot; its not. No, it doesnt 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, shes no longer able to coast on her jaw-dropping technique and crystalline instrument and shes a far more interesting singer because of that. Check the gossamer hoarseness with which she croons the albums best track, the Missy Elliottproduced 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 Immon 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 CDs track listing Tell Me No, Unashamed, Whatchulookinat. Throughout are lyrics that drip with defiance and defensiveness (You criticize my actions/But I dont see you standing in my shoes/Im going the wrong way/Im doing the wrong things/Every word just gives me fuel). Even the albums 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 albums failed first single, Whatchulookinat, where Bobby Browns spoken intro Its time for you to strike back/Theyre lookin at you . . . /Theyre 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: Shes very Judy Garland these days. But as with that patron saint of the drugged and resilient, Houstons 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 dont know what Ive been going through, the song leaps beyond its work-sucks-the-rents-late-I-need-a-date griping into the realm of existential letting. Its in the voice.
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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