Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Look To You - Whitney Review

I've held off reviewing "I Look To You" for a couple of weeks because I didn't want my judgement to be clouded by sentimentality. You see, I really wanted to love this album. Like most fans I've been waiting for Whitney's big comeback since 1998's "My Love Is Your Love" (in my opinion her last decent offering) and have tasted bitter disappointment at least once before (see the shiteous excuse for album called "Just Whitney"). This seemed like the diva's last chance to regain some of her former glory and, for me at least, Whitney has achieved that and more. "I Look To You" is like re-discovering an old friend. Some critics have described the album as safe but I think classic is a more appropriate adjective. While it's true that Whitney returns to her old formula of ballads and mid-tempo pop songs, there's an attention to detail and overall sense of quality about "I Look To You" that reminds me of her first two albums. However, this time around the songs are more personal. I know Whitney only had a hand in writing a couple of them but the vast majority seem tailor made for her. That combined with her slightly battered but still beautiful voice imbues "I Look To You" with a degree of soul and poignancy that her earlier work was missing. Crack whores take note - it's never too late to put down the pipe and pick up a microphone! Here's my track by track review:

Million Dollar Bill

Who would have guessed that the lead single from Whitney's 2009 comeback album would be a disco tinged "re-make" of an obscure 1976 track? As Tommy
points out on Disco Delivery, "Million Dollar Bill" basically puts new lyrics to Loleatta Holloway's "We're Getting Stronger". The original writers are credited but I love how Alicia Keys completely forgot to mention it in the interviews she did hyping the song she wrote for Whitney! At least she had the decency to rip off something good. I love everything about this track. The lyrics are great (I'd settle for feeling like a crisp $20 bill!), the production sizzles and it's great to hear Whitney sing something so upbeat and joyous. Oh and the Freemasons remix is a gay man's wet dream.

My beautiful "Million Dollar Bill" CD single!

Nothin' But Love

A lot of fans have been calling for "Nothin' But Love" to be the album's next single and I have to agree. This is by far the most contemporary and edgy song on "I Look To You" and one of the few tracks that I can really imagine radio latching onto. Danja's production is crisp and current without making Whitney sound like a desperate cougar who has spent far too much time listening to her daughter's CD collection. Hello, Madonna! The beats come thick and fast and the chorus is ridiculously catchy. Most of all I love the song's theme of moving on with your life. Who better to sell that message than Whitney?

Call You Tonight

News flash - Stargate finally redeem themselves after recycling the same track for the past three years! I was beginning to think the Norwegian producers were the industry's worst one trick pony but they contribute two excellent and very different songs to "I Look To You". In fact, they are probably my two favourite cuts on the album. I love songs that capture an everyday thought or emotion - even something as lame as making time to stay in touch - and "Call You Tonight" does that perfectly. I was even tempted to email this song to a certain someone but decided not to push my luck. I really don't think this is single material but it's completely adorable (particularly when Whitney ad libs "sho' enough") and I find myself coming back to it time and again.

I Look To You

As much as I hate to praise anything connected with vile piss pig/paedophile R Kelly, the album's title track is classic Whitney. A lot of people find "I Look To You" incredibly boring but I think it's timeless and beautiful. I love the inspirational lyrics and splashes of gospel. This is the kind of track that Whitney would have ridden all the way to #1 in the 80s but times have changed and it seems a little old fashioned now. I guess that torpedoes its commercial prospects but it's one of the main reasons I love it - "I Look To You" takes me back to the days when Whitney spent more time talking to Jesus than her dealer. Call me sentimental but it's touching to see her come full circle.

Like I Never Left (Featuring Akon)

Thankfully this is the only track with a cameo appearance by a pointless urban star. Not that Akon's presence is offensive. "Like I Never Left" is actually a sweet mid-tempo ballad and one of only two songs that Whitney had a hand in writing. The lyrics are particularly telling. When Whitney sings "I want you to love me like I never left", you know the lyrics have a double meaning. My biggest problem with the song is its lack of bite. "Like I Never Left" never gets out of second gear - making it perfect elevator music but a bit of a letdown given the tracks that precede it.

A Song For You

I almost had a heart attack when I realised this was Leon Russell's 1970 classic.
The Carpenters' version is one of my all time favourite songs and I can't think of a more appropriate track for Whitney to cover. The lyrics take on a whole new meaning in this version. On the face of it, "A Song For You" is a simple love song but you could also interpret the lyrics as an apology of sorts to her fans - "Your image of me is what I hope to be, I've treated you unkindly but can't you see there's noone more important to me". This has to be a single. Stargate's decision to transform the song from a ballad into the album's only real dance track is absolutely inspired. My favourite track on the album.

I Didn't Know My Own Strength

I think I vomited into my mouth when I first heard that Diane fucking Warren was writing Whitney's comeback anthem. As it happens "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" was only a promo single (record companies need to stop pulling that shit - it's completely pointless) and, surprisingly, turned out to be rather lovely. This song is all about the lyrics and Whitney delivers them beautifully. Strangely, I vastly prefer hearing the song live. The studio version is a bit too sterile, while Whitney's performance on Oprah was all the more poignant for her vocal shortcomings. This track also has the best fan nickname - "I Didn't Know My Own Stamina To Take Drugs"!

Worth It

Now this is a grower. Penned and produced by rising urban hotshot Eric Hudson, "Worth It" is the kind of soulful slow jam that Karyn White and Jennifer Holliday were cranking out in the mid-80s. The emphasis is on mood and atmosphere rather than cheap samples and throwaway hooks. I love Whitney's voice on this and enjoy the song more each time I hear it. "Worth It" is probably best described as quality filler.

For The Lovers

Danja returns for one of the album's few upbeat club bangers. Again, it's restrained and age appropriate but still fresh and edgy. I particularly love hearing those heavy synths and dance loops. I can only imagine how hot the inevitable remixes will be. This could Whitney's biggest club anthem since "It's Not Right But It's Okay". The lyrics are made for the dancefloor - particularly the classy line "and if your lover ain't around, that don't mean you can't get down"! Surely this will be released as a single in the not too distant future.

I Got You

"I Got You" is one of my least favourite tracks on the album. Like Akon's other contribution "Like I Never Left", the song is nice enough but perhaps a little too safe. I like the synths at the beginning but then the song falls into mid-tempo urban mediocrity. One of my few criticisms of the album is the fact that the second half is noticeably weaker than the first half. I guess that's where iTunes comes into its own - you can just pretend the duds don't exist. Interestingly, this is the other track that Whitney co-write. Strangely, it's probably the least personal on the album.


R Kelly packs away his plastic sheets to produce the album's closing track. Again, it pains me to say that I really, really like this. "Salute" reminds me of Destiny's Child at the peak of their late 90s fierceness - particularly with lyrics like "I feel like doing my hair, I feel like callin' some of my friends, I feel like going to my club and partyin'". Think of this as a four minute fuck you note to Bobby Brown, complete with militaristic beat and a plethora of subtle but catchy hooks. All in all, a fitting conclusion to a great album. In the song Whitney sings "don't call it a comeback" but with "I Look To You" she pulls off one of the best in recent memory.

Welcome back, Nippy!


Paul said...

Brilliant review - love love love it and actually agree with every single word, particularly the bits about piss pig r kelly! Loving the Million Dollar Bill video too!

Zaghawa said...

Excellent review Mike, I enjoyed it very much.

tommie said...

I pretty much agree with everything you've said - I like that they've managed to update the Whitney sound without degrading her or trying to shave 20 years off her actual age.

I look forward to Bobbi Kristina's music career too - yes, she is indeed working on her own stuff! Yay!

(My verification word was "methi" - foreshadowing?)

Anonymous said...

Great review! Loving the album, "Worth It" is a bore. "Song For You" is great until the awful beats drop in (sounds so dated!), but the rest of the record is great. "Salute" is def a favourite, and also loving the Akon duet (has a very "All I See" laidback r'n'b vibe to it).


undisco_me said...

I read this like a menu - I can't wait to get my paws on this. Her Oprah performance made my eyes marble with tears.

Oprah spoonfed her the interview though. What a mental image!

My own word verification was 'ingeoxif' which is a Lesbian term for 'crackwhore'.

Poster Girl said...

Yup, ditto everyone else--great review (though overall I'm a little less positive on the album than you are). "Nothin' But Love" is just such a great song--Danja really did do a good job of making it contemporary and appropriate for Whitney.

Tommy said...

Love your review, Mike! Thanks for the link. I love this album to bits even if it's not so much (or at least primarily) because of her voice anymore. The production works to her advantage more often than not. The Stargate tracks are some of my favourites. "Salute" sounds like something Toni Braxton did four years ago, still like it tho!

Hidroboy said...

I totally agree with you. Here in the spanish bloggin-cercle maybe I'm the only one defending Whitney and liking the album!! For the Lovers is my favourit and, as you said, I can't wait for the remixes.
And I'm so hooked to Call you tonight... or Spotlight 2.0

Parker said...

Maybe I'll give it another chance, just to prove that Mike's review is 100.000 time sbetter than Whitney's last album.

tidusin said...

I think it's a honest album, and what I like most is that it doesn't sound like all the other contemporary rnb stuff.

And my favourite is Nanbala (you all call it Nothin But Love, I don't know why), because it shows a smooth Danja production, far from the terrorist attacks committed by Timbaland.

Jamie_movietrip said...

I agree with every word, I love Nothin' But Love, A Song For You, and of course Million Dollar Bill. I love it all though, Whitney is back!

Jamie said...

I wasnt impressed on first listen but now I cant get enough of the new raspy Whitney. I agree with you 'A song for you' is probably the best on the album.

Anonymous said...

Agree with you on Nothin But Love, what a quality track, the only track I really love off the album...but can I whisper a question...where is your review of Latoya on the View yesterday? She was called a hooker by a comedian! LOVE IT!!

Michael said...

So after reading your review, I went to iTunes and listend to the snippets. Maybe I've just gotten gayer as time goes by because I liked For The Lovers and could see really liking Nothin' But Love and Salut with the right remixes. And of course, I like the Freemasons mix to Million Dollar Bill.

The album better than I expected after hearing the original MDB and I Look to You.

Glad to see it's met or exceeded your expectations and you're enjoying it!

Magical Froggy said...

Your review has made me look forward to this even more! :D

tj said...

Excellent review! I agree pretty much with everything you said.

Salute has to be a single

Aaron said...

Haven't heard it yet, desperately want too - but your review has really made me desperate too!

Justin said...

I only care for Million Dollar Bill!