Category Archives: Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston – Whitney

Whitney Houston
Whitney
June 2, 1987
Arista RecordsSME
068/100
Whitney Houston - Whitney
1. I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) // 2. Just the Lonely Taking Again // 3. Love Will Save the Day // 4. Didn’t We Almost Have It All // 5. So Emotional // 6. Where You Are // 7. Love Is a Contact Sport // 8. You’re Still My Man // 9. For the Love of You // 10. Where Do Broken Hearts Go // 11. I Know Him So Well (feat. Cissy Houston)

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and if there’s anything Whitney Houston didn’t leave Whitney Houston (and probably more importantly; Clive Davis) it was broke.

So for her sophomore album, called Whitney, the same merry bunch of shlockmasters; Naranda Michael Walden, Michael Masser and Kashif were assembled to write a set of songs to similar to that on her debut (Jermaine Jackson was given the boot apparently).
The resulting album is some light, pleasant shopping mall music that every white, middle-aged woman person was bound to experience as as specifically about him/ her. A trick that is what popular music is all about and, do not kid yourself, always has been about, but is rarely pulled off as brilliantly and purposefully as it is by Whitney, Clive and their assembly line songwriters. Or perhaps the trick is solely Clive’s, convincing Whitney that these song were specifically about her because she still sings them with gusto, and if not passion itself at the very least an imitation of passion that is indistinguishable from the real thing. Who was milking who exactly isn’t fully clear and is open for debate. Since I saw her explaining in an Oprah interview how deep something completely purposefully instinct R. Kelly wrote for her was, I like to believe she enjoyed making this type of music, and was actually a lot like her audience relating a lot to these generic songs about struggles that belong to no-one in particular. Feel free to disagree with that, I’m not an expert on music industry fuckery.

What isn’t up for debate however is that this album made everyone involved with its creation richer as it sold some twenty five million copies worldwide, some five million less than it’s predecessor, but hey who gives a shit. Twenty five million meant that in an era when people still paid for music the vast majority of those who picked up the first album picked up the sophomore (and were quite likely to do so again the third time around). This meant that Clive Davis and Whitney Houston were not simply succesful but that they had hit a gold mine that wasn’t going to run dry anytime soon.

Even if you don’t particularly enjoy this diva pop-R&B thing it’s quite easy to see why those who do would pick up a Whitney Houston album. It’s simply a matter of fact that she is a terrific singer, technically. She has a great, big mezzo-soprano voice that the New York times once desribed in a concert review as “a technical marvel from its velvety depths to its ballistic middle register to its ringing and airy heights.” and as “clean and strong, with barely any grit, well suited to the songs of love and aspiration that were the breakthrough hits from her first two albums” in an necrology. Indeed Whitney sold the best because technically she was the best, and no criticism on other aspects of her artistry can take that away from her. This technical singing is almost worth the price of admission of Whitney alone.

My beef then isn’t so much with miss Houston, but rather with her legion of American Idol/The Voice of [insert your country here] imitators, who learnt all the wrong lessons from her and Mariah (and arguably Stevie Wonder as well) and try to sing like her, ‘flaunting their vocal range’, but end up sounding incapable of holding a note and singing the goddamn song already, in stead. This, ladies and gentlemen, is quite simply put because they’re always not as good.
It’s easy imagining how Whitney‘s songs would sound if they were performed by such a third-rate store brand imitation of miss Houston. (And in fact they have been performed a plenty on these shows.) Dry and superficial. The words would come across as the generic pap songwriting they are and the backing music would make for something hotel-elevator worthy.

Since they’re performed by the real deal though.. well.. one should be a little more careful making such assessments. Whitney actually was, as Charlie Sheen would put it, capable of turning tin cans into gold. She breathes emotion and life into these songs. Perhaps overly dramatic, larger-than-life-sized-emotions that are phrased in an overly well mannered fashion that isn’t how people experience stuff, but then again she is after all a diva and not one of those ‘girl next door’ type of singers. And these self-important, overblown projections of feelings are probably perfect backdrops for post-breakup binge-ice cream eating sessions or something. (Listening to this album while tipsy is however not recommended. Lest you get tearjerked, you pansy.) Even if this album makes your hairs on your neck stand up, whether be it for all the wrong or all the right reasons, there’s no denying that there’s a certain epic quality to it.

As much as this album is similar to its similarly titled predecessor there are differences as well. Whitney is quite upbeat and uptempo. The debut was all ballads while you could dance to about 50% of the second album (if nobody is around while lip-syncing into a hairbrush in front of the mirror). The first album was all homewrecking-sentimentality, amorous insecurity and emotional breakdowns, this one has but one moment of such ambivalence. That’s Didn’t We Almost Have It All, which is bound to be someone‘s favourite song ever.
There’s also a little more sex on this album. Although it is for the most part weirdly ambiguous sex. And Love Is a Contact Sport is actually not about the contact sport-aspects of love you’d expect an R&B song with that title to be about, which can only be called a practical joke on the listener.
Just the Lonely Talking Again, is a ballad about the age-old question whether an unnamed love interest wants her for her booty or actually likes het as a person. It is a highlight because of its stripped down approach, relatively speaking off course, this is still a diva pop album. The backing music is pleasantly lush but not covered in a thick layer of shimmer. And Whitney’s vocal performance is atypically restrained, but excellent as always.
Love Will Save the Day throws in some lively latin rhythms that, when combined with a catchy song about the power of positivity makes the best song on the album. It would seem that producer Jellybean was listening to the Miami Sound machine before creating this beat. It also makes one wonder what guilty pleasures miss Houston could’ve produced if she would’ve gotten to record a straight disco or dance album, unhindered by ueberschtick balladry.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)So Emotional and Love Is a Contact Sport are also functional and impeccably produced ’80s R&B dance songs, even if they’re not nearly as good or memorable as Love Will Save the Day.

As for the ballads. The previously mentioned Just the Lonely Talking Again sounds sincere and sexy. As does the Isley Brothers cover For the Love of You with its hovering sax riff. Where You Are walks the line. You’re Still My ManDidn’t We Almost Have It AllWhere Do Broken Hearts Go and the duet with mother Cissy I Know Him So Well (Written by ABBA puppetmasters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and Jesus Christ Superstar/Evita co-creator Tim Rice, and originally part of Rice’s musical Chess.) however is the kind of music that causes instant diabetes and dental cavities. It is the sort of vile super-Disney song that help either helps you through your day or makes you want to kill yourself.

(Speaking of hugely succesful shit that will make you want to kill yourself, ABBA and musicals. Why the fuck hasn’t someone written a lame story around Whitney Houston’s hits and sent that shit to Broadway yet? That shit would just make everyone filthily rich all over again. Mamma Mia! made two billion dollars worldwide and I’m sure Whitney’s music will bring out similar numbers. We’ll call it Queen of the Night. Catherine Johnson, you may have the idea. All I want is a visionary executive producer credit, a fair share of the cash and guarantees I’ll never actually have to watch the fucking show.

Call me!)

Whitney is the type of album that shows both the music industry and Whitney Houston at the peak of their powers, breaking down racial barriers on MTV and other mainstream pop outlets, and separating as many people from their hard earned cash as possible while doing that. It is an incredibly refined product meant to appeal to as many people as possible. And it’s pretty awesome for how accomplished it is in doing that. It helps that miss Houston in fact has one of music’s best. voices. ever. And that the people behind the boards are accomplished queso craftsmen. It is too bad indeed that she never used her powers for good and recorded something truly soulful or less pop charts and MOR radio oriented, but then again she wouldn’t seem very interested in that anyway (Just look up any Whitney Houston interview on youtube. Avant garde she was not.) so it is most likely best to take this music at face value, and consider this pop diva as the artist she truly was, and this music as a product she took pride in delivering to the masses, perhaps even believing it was high art.
Does that however mean you should listen to it? Probably, here’s why. This music aims to please the senses and through it the emotions, without challenging the listener. And it has enough know how to pull it off. I’m not saying that buying Whitney is anything more than buying into a shiny, fluffy illusion with artificial preservatives and taste- and colour enhancers gilore. But if that’s a thing you enjoy every once in a while then hey, there’s no shame in that. We all have our guilty pleasures. As far as diva-pop goes: this is the top segment of the market. And sometimes you just have to take a big greasy bite out of that Big Mac, yo.

Best tracks
Just the Lonely Talking Again
Love Will Save the Day
Where You Are
For the Love of You

Recommendations
If you can enjoy big radio pop that is sterile clean and professional, also a bit pompous, yet prude and old fashioned, and lacks any sort of real edge, you may want to pick this up. Just hide it in a place where only you can find it, and use headphones when you listen to it. You won’t want the neighbours ‘thinking things’.


Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston
February 14, 1985
Arista RecordsSME
070/100
Whitney Houston - Whitney Houston
1. You Give Good Love // 2. Thinking About You // 3. Someone For Me // 4. Saving All My Love For You // 5. Nobody Loves Me Like You Do (feat. Jermaine Jackson) // 6. How Will I Know // 7. All At Once // 8. Take Good Care of My Heart (Jermaine Jackson feat. Whitney Houston) // 9. Greatest Love of All // 10. Hold Me (Teddy Pendergrass feat. Whitney Houston)

In 1985 and Whitney Houston came fresh on the scene with her self-titled debut album. Whitney was the daughter of grammy winning gospel singer Cissy Houston, with whom she toured a lot at a young age, gaining her first stage experience. Apparently she was offered a bunch of record deals at a young age but her mother declined these because she wanted Whitney to finish high school, which is difficult to do with an international recording career. In 1983 however, she got signed by Arista head honcho Clive Davis. And Davis, Houston and a bunch of producers, including MJ’s big brother Jermaine, got it cracking. Allegedly because of Whitney’s gospel-styled vocals it took them two years to find a suitable set of pop songs, because as tame and slick as Whitney Houston is, it was considered revolutionary upon release. That is really hard to imagine for those who weren’t there at the time to experience the buzz firsthand. You see. For those of us who weren’t around in the mid-’80s to late ’90s, Whitney Houston is best known as that woman whose saccharine pop-soul plays in the background while we’re at the mall to purchase a new winter coat. A generic “diva”.

That is entirely unfair. Houston pioneered the style. The style being melismatically singing over sugarcoated, marshmellow-centred pop instrumentals. Not that this trivia convince anyone that Whitney Houston is a legitimate artist if that person is already convinced of the opposite being true, but that person just may begrudgingly have to give her originality points already.

Whitney Houston sure was a polarising figure for someone who recorded such vanilla-flavoured pop songs. Noted by the record buying audiences, critics and everyone with ears for her exceptional vocal talent and loved to death by her fans. But many of those same critics also believed that in the best case she was satisfied with recording whatever sterile, unexceptional material her producers handed her, or that in the worst case she purposely put her vocal talent to waste, in order to make herself and her label boss Clive Davis filthily rich, by recording songs that appealed to white, middle aged housewives easy listening/ adult contemporary audiences, by dropping every notion of funk, soul and grit to separate as many people from their hard-earned money as possible.

For my money it was the former. As Robert Christgau put it in his 1985 review of this album: “I’d never claim that this sweet, statuesque woman and her sweet, statuesque voice are victims of exploitation. She obviously believes in this schlock.” Kitschy as everything here is, it’s all expertly and properly made and performed earnestly and more than competently by the lady of the hour.  Whitney‘s self-indulgent earnestness is at the very same time at the core of it’s problem. (Anyone who sings lines like “I believe that children are the future.” as she does on Greatest Love of All, without blinking loses cool points immediately, just listen to the ballads off Michael Jackson’s Bad and Dangerous albums.) It is this general air of self-importance that makes this less fun to listen to than, say, New Edition, an album that exists solely to entertain and manages to have some fun doing so, even if Whitney Houston is probably the technically superior effort between the two albums. But to miss Houston’s credit, this probably was the kind of music she wanted to make too, because she does give it her all here and racks up some technically excellent performances over the span of this album’s fifty minutes and ten songs, even blowing more established soul-singers such as Teddy Pendergrass (surprising) and Jermaine Jackson (less surprising) completely out of the water on wat were originally their own songs on their own albums, transplanted to this one.

Her singing is so good in fact that it goes a long way in covering up the fact that most of the material she gets to perform is indeed some corporate songwriting and music-making at its worst, trying to incorporate as many contemporary musical trends  into the most inoffensive musical format available (Kenny G-esque sax solos, clunky synth playing and syrupy strings on most of the ballads and ’80s cop movie car-chase sequence music on Thinking About You.), with lyrics that are meant to appeal to as many women people as possible by going on about romantic situations. I.e.: having met the love of your life (You Give Good Love), having an affair with a married man (Saving All My Love For You), wondering whether someone she has a crush on will ever love her back (How Will I Know) having a complete emotional breakdown (All At Once), all the while maintaining an impossible level of politeness, grace and modesty. In other words Whitney may be properly emoting theatrically, but nowhere does she actually convey any emotion the way anyone would ever actually experience it. Never are there any feelings of spite. On Saving All My Love For You she doesn’t even consider asking the guy to leave his wife to be with her in stead, or telling the guy’s wife that she’s been doing him because “[he’s] got [his] family, and they need [him] there.”

So Whitney Houston is well made to appear lifelike and relatable to as many people as possible, telling tales about the ups and downs of love without trying to shock anyone with profanity, eventually turning out to be no-one’s actual reality. Still if you are the type of person who likes to let yourself be fooled by calculated, measured melodrama this the way to go. Also, the girl could sing. Before the was smoking bobby brown with Bobby Brown and before Mariah ran with her style and topped her in the vocal range department she was arguably technically the best singer in music. This is evident when you realise that some of this mid-1980s shtick is actually saved from blandness by her performances, and that these corporate-songwriter creations are sung a lot more convincingly than they deserve to be. She could actually turn these tin cans into gold with her enormous, unusually clear mezzo-soprano voice. Off course to maximize the potential you’d have to give apply this fantastic instrument to some well written, interesting material. Alas, not much in the form of that is to be found on Whitney Houston, but it would occur later on in her career (i.e.: My Love Is Your Love).

Concluding: Whitney Houston is simultaneously both a good showcase of Whitney’s more than considerable talents and a pretty generic album. For the most part she does her nickname the Voice justice. But the material she gets to work with can’t quite keep up. And Whitney, while technically is singing excellently, can’t quite put reality into these songs beyond a soap-opera level, though she comes close through sheer technical skill.

Best tracks
You Give Good Love
Saving All My Love For You
How Will I Know
All At Once
Greatest Love of All

Recommendations
If you are a fan of sappy, slick, big ballads and well-performed vocal acrobatics and enjoy watching shows such as the VoiceWhitney Houston is for you. It is a textbook classic in the genre of “diva” pop, and possibly it’s highlight. If you’re looking for something realer,  more gritty, and less candy-coated you may have to go find yourself a copy of What’s the 411?.