Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Whitney Houston – I Look To You

She may not be a lady, but she’s all Whitney…


Kat Stevens: December 2009, and it’s the X-Factor semi-finals. Whitney has just done a duet with [attractive female contestant with arduous backstory and powerful lungs] and it’s now her turn to do her own promo spot. A hush falls upon the studio, and with this scarily apt overcoming-the-odds-this-is-my-journey ballad, Whitney makes everyone forget about the poor young lass they were previously rooting for. Half a million hormonal women dry their eyes and hit ‘CONFIRM’ on the iTunes pre-order page. Glitter falls from the ceiling.

Doug Robertson: Surely we’re getting a bit ahead of us here on the Jukebox? Why are we reviewing the winning X Factor single before the contest is actually over? And besides, this is a particularly dull effort from the show that rewards mediocrity over originality and… What‘s that? Whitney Houston? Really? Oh…

Anthony Miccio: Artists have been thanking God and Clive Davis in the same breath for years, but this may be the first time someone did it in song. Shame the former took back her voice (the track slowly dissipates after a failed attempt at a climax), but I’m sure the latter appreciates the sentiment.

Martin Skidmore: Her voice sounds ugly and harshly throaty on the lower notes (a bit Eartha Kitt, perhaps) — it’s particularly ill-suited to this love ballad, where she sounds damaged and almost angry when she shouldn’t be. Maybe I just need to adjust to her new tones, I don’t know, but a few listens aren’t helping yet.

Michaelangelo Matos: I kind of like her timbre now that it’s muddied with age: always thought her voice was kind of thin, so the new thickness is somewhat novel, at least. Not that she’s got any better taste in schlock than she ever had, of course.

Pete Baran: Listening for the first time is like some sort of horror movie, when you anticipate the build, the vocal arpeggios, and the kitchen sink kicking in. So Whitney has to be praised for keeping it all rather restrained. What could have been 18 rated turns out to be PG.

John Seroff: Her recent flameout in Central Park suggests that the decision to take everything down an octave was, at best, only partially artistic. On the other hand, if you’re like me, you never cared much for Whitney’s cloyingly showy melismas anyway. Houston manages reasonable addition by subtraction here; holding fast to a rigidly introspective gospel mode serves her well. Now we just need to get a less plodding backing track and we might have something; this one is so D.O.A. that repeat listens feel more a chore than a pleasure.

Martin Kavka: When Whitney sang this earlier this week — badly yet movingly — in Central Park for the show Good Morning America, she changed a lyric from “in you I can be strong” to “in Him you can be strong.” She also sang “I look to you, Mama,” and pointed at the audience when singing the title phrase, but it’s plausible that the big JC is included among the referents of the titular “you.” On this reading, the most interesting thing about the lyric is that we never discover whether Jesus is looking back at Whitney. “In you I can move on,” but we never find out whether she’s able to act on this power. “In you I hear a song,” but we never find out whether she can sing that song, much less sing it well. Any confidence gained from these lines of the chorus is dissipated by the middle eight, which ends with Whitney tersely beseeching, “I need you. Shine on me.” Despite all the predictable RyanTedderisms of the production, which kill R. Kelly’s genuinely moving melody and prove that the word “plod” is onomatopoeic, I’m quite gobsmacked by the song. It’s technically a comeback single, but the lyric refuses to let us call it a comeback.

Anthony Easton: Whitney doing gospel was inevitable: the earnest embracing of maternal/familial history after a disastrous decade places her in a new context; she is begging not only the Lord but the audience for forgiveness, and I am willing to give it to her.

Matt Cibula: Don’t love this but as a diva move it’s pretty canny, Dolly Parton hiccups and power chords and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. Plus I didn’t really love “I Will Always Love You” at first either, maybe I’ll come around.

Alfred Soto: As on “Million Dollar Bill,” the ravages of drugs and age have made Houston’s voice raspier and less creamy on the high end, but she’s finding songs commensurate with her diminished range. Less icky than the F-15 engine blasts she expended on her earlier ballads, this one also shows unexpected humility, especially when she bemoans the loss of her melodies (not that she didn’t vaporize perfectly good melodies in the old days). I’ll never trust her, but we can sit across the table and negotiate.

5 Responses to “Whitney Houston – I Look To You”

  1. well put, martin k.

  2. I think this a good song that could have been recorded better – hence the above description of my ideal live performance where we have the extra bonus of seeing her spill out her emotional guts on prime time telly.


    judging from her GMA performance, the only reason she’d make an audience forget an x-factor contestant is they’d be gawking at the trainwreck.

  4. Oh dear :(

  5. The backing of this is just “The Climb” slowed down. Kind of. It’s no “I’m Your Baby Tonight”, anyway.