Blessed with one of the most exciting new voices in years, Whitney Houston sings the hell out of the pleasant but undistinguished pop-soul tunes on her album, which was put together by a consortium of top producers: Michael Masser, Jermaine Jackson, Kashif, Narada Michael Walden. But compared to the Bacharach-David gems that launched Dionne Warwick or the bluesy originals on Phoebe Snow’s first album, many of the songs here are so featureless they could be sung by anyone. They make what could have been a stunning debut merely promising.
Once the initial disappointment recedes, there’s a lot to like about Whitney Houston. Even in mushy duets with Jermaine Jackson and Teddy Pendergrass and overproduced uptempo numbers like “Someone for Me,” there are passages of luxurious, open-throated vocalizing. And although it’s awfully reminiscent of the Pointer Sisters’ “He’s So Shy,” “How Will I Know” is still irresistibly danceable. But only on the corny but moving black-pride anthem “Greatest Love of All” does Houston give a coherent performance. Because she has a technically polished voice like Patti Austin’s — as opposed to a raspy character voice like, say, Chaka Khan’s — her interpretive approach is what sets her apart. She starts off cautious and contained, singing the song as written and enunciating the words clearly. Then, gradually, as the lyrics repeat, she lets go a little, slowly pours on the soul, slips in some churchy phrasing, holds notes a little longer and shows off her glorious voice — yet she always leave you with the tantalizing sensation of something held back. With her sleek beauty and her great voice, Whitney Houston is obviously headed for stardom, and if nothing else, her album is an exciting preview of coming attractions.