With the exception of a collaboration with Akon, Whitney Houston’s new album, I Look to You—her first studio album in seven years—is almost absurdly gimmick-free. In an era when female pop singers are increasingly self-referential (Britney Spears conceived an entire album, Circus, on this concept), Houston absolutely refuses to play on her tabloid-fodder background.
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It’s almost kind of weird to not hear any Bobby Brown disses or denials of crack-cocaine addictions. There’s nothing current or sexed-up about the album at all, much less any attempt to appeal to a younger demographic. Instead, the work focuses on what Houston has always done best: pretty (but never obnoxiously so) R&B for “everyone who believes in love,” as she sings on album highlight “For the Lovers.” That’s one of the rare uptempo tracks; the majority, such as “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” tend toward rousing, church-choir-ready empowerment ballads. The album sounds out of time, and if one didn’t know better, one might suspect it was released a decade or two ago. But the timeless approach works. There’s something extremely refreshing about a performer who refuses to kowtow to whatever they’re calling the newest generation of brats.