Whitney Houston

    Whitney Houston (Arista, 1985)
    Whitney (Arista, 1987)
   I'm Your Baby Tonight (Arista, 1990)
     My Love Is Your Love (Arista, 1998)
     Whitney: The Greatest Hits (Arista, 2000)
   Love Whitney (Arista, 2001)
    Just Whitney (Arista, 2002)
   One Wish: The Holiday Album (Arista, 2003)
   I Look to You (Arista, 2009)

Soundtrack Appearances
   The Bodyguard (Arista, 1992)
  Waiting to Exhale (Arista, 1995)
   The Preacher's Wife (Arista, 1996)

Whitney Houston has one of the most powerful and polished voices in popular music, an instrument exquisitely capable of balladic intimacy, gospel exuberance, and soulful expression, and she has misused that gift in more ways than most singers could imagine. She began her career slinging blandly romantic pap; from there, she became a singing actress and overblown torch song specialist. Eventually, she decided to show she did indeed have soul, but her career had been so battered by erratic behavior and rumored drug use that the achievement almost went unnoticed.

Whitney Houston has its moments, particularly when Houston leans toward R&B, as on "You Give Good Love." Whitney, on the other hand, was a shameless attempt to downplay the singer's blackness and thus capitalize on her Top Forty pop following. It made sense as a marketing move—the album generated four Number Ones, including the insanely chipper "I Wanna Dance With Somebody"—but as music it's not much.

I'm Your Baby Tonight found the singer trying to recapture the increasingly alienated R&B listeners who had been her initial audience, although the music was less soul than vaguely soulful. Houston would pick up this thread at the end of the decade with My Love Is Your Love, but in the meantime, Hollywood beckoned. She appeared in three movies and on their soundtracks. The Bodyguard contained her biggest hit, the rafter-rattling ballad "I Will Always Love You," but undermined her soul roots with an overwrought remake of Chaka Khan's epochal "I'm Every Woman." Waiting to Exhale had only three Houston efforts, including the hit "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)"; the rest was given over to tepid R&B by other artists. The Preacher's Wife is a good idea in theory, as it promises to return Houston to her gospel roots, but ends up bland and unconvincing, as if Houston were afraid to cut loose.

My Love Is Your Love boasts cameos by Mariah Carey, Faith Evans, and Missy Elliott, and comes closer to proving Houston's mettle as an R&B star than any album in her catalogue. Unfortunately, drug problems and a troubled marriage to Bobby Brown plagued Houston throughout the 2000s, and her label resorted to gimmicks—the bloated Greatest Hits, the ballad-focused Love, Whitney, and the lamentable Christmas collection One Wish—to keep new product in the stores.

With I Look to You, her first studio album since 2002's lifeless Just Whitney, Houston only hinted at the drama Houston had been through, but airing dirty laundry didn't seem to be her goal on her comeback record: She wanted to be like a player in the pop game again. The diva entlisted producers and songwriters like R. Kelly, Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys, and Stargate to help give I Look to You a modern sheen and the bounciness of Top Forty R&B. Though Houston's voice sounds deeper and a little damaged by time, the rejuvenated sound works on bright, vibrant songs like "Nothin' But Love" and the string-laden, near-disco "Million Dollar Bill." The lyrics tend toward sleepy generalities – see ''I took the fall, now I stand tall," from "Solider" – but in "I Didn't Know My Own Strength," Houston delivers the huge, knee-weakening ballad her fans have come to expect from her.

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