Mariah and Whitney reassert their undeniable presence. Read more…

Artist: Whitney Houston
Album: I Look To You

Release date: August 28

Label: Arista

After a 7-year hiatus, Whitney Houston is back with I Look To You. I will try and make this review focus more on the music than on the person, even though it’s hard. But, we all know the story from the debut to the breakdown and break-up. The album promisingly begins with the elegantly ebullient “Million Dollar Bill”, written by Alicia Keys and produced by Swizz Beatz; the track is the perfect comeback single for Ms. Houston. Sadly, the album only goes downhill afterwards. There is not one track that rivals the opener's successful formula and charm. “Nothin’ But Love” is a shout-out to almost everybody, from her teachers to her haters. The song feels cold and is overridden by the beat, which leaves Houston’s vocals in the background.

The title track “I Look To You” –written by R. Kelly- serves as the album’s centerpiece, it has Whitney doing what she does best, belting out. It’s not the same anymore; her voice is not as strong as it used to be. But, that’s very understandable given the circumstances. Whitney takes Leon Russel’s classic “A Song For You” to whole new heights with the help of Norwegian production team Stargate. After starting out slowly, the song evolves into a club banger, which takes to some getting used to.

The Dianna Warren penned “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” is a simple, safe ballad. This is my favorite ballad on the album, Whitney’s emotions shine throughout the song. The album conclude with a favorite of mine, another R. Kelly written track “Salute” -which sounds like a rewrite of Rihanna’s “Take A Bow”- featuring rich production and a scornful bridge (“Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years”). While the voice is not there anymore, I Look To You is still a fine album, and a reminder that Whitney is still a force to reckon with.

Highlights: “Million Dollar Bill”, “A Song For You”, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength”, “Salute”.

Artist: Mariah Carey

Album: Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel

Release date: September 29
Label: Island Records

One thing guaranteed when listening to a Mariah Carey album is having the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, at least once. While she has always been known for her unique vocal range, and unmatchable whistle-register. On this album, Mariah dazzles with her lower register and delivers one of her most coherent albums in a while. “Welcome to a day of my life, the memoirs of an imperfect angel" Mariah opens the album on the brooding "Betcha Gon' Know" where she tells the story of a cheating boyfriend, the song showcases the rare dark side of Mariah, last heard on "Side Effects" from her previous album, E=MC². "H.A.T.E.U." (which stands for Having A Typical Emotional Upset) finds Carey crooning her way through heavily pulsating beats, while keeping her emotional gauge at full. Terius "The-Dream" Nash, and Tricky Stewart's murky instrumental arrangements on "Ribbon" enveloping Carey's tender voice, results in a distinctive sultry sound, a very much welcomed one.

"Inseparable", a personal favorite of mine, has many elements separating it from the millions of mid-tempo ballads swarming the radio; the key change in the second verse, and the out-of-place, but welcomed sudden high note, also in the second verse, for example. The kiss-off swagger of "Standing O" brings Rihanna's "Take A Bow" to mind, the song is the catchiest of the bunch, with tons of hooks uncovering after repetitive listens. "It's A Wrap", another favorite of mine, places Carey in the cockpit, and letting her voice solely command the minimally arranged song.

While comedy hasn't really been her forte, Mariah shows a comical side on the combative "Up Out My Face", with lines such as: "You won't see me for free, boy this ain't no promo", "Not even a nail technician with a whole lot of gel and acrylic can fix this. When I break, I break", and concluding with “If we were two Lego blocks, even the Harvard University graduating class of 2010 couldn’t put us back together again”.

Carey oozes her way through the lush harmonies of “The Impossible”, the song and its reprise are flawless. “Angel (The Prelude)” is almost made up wholly of Carey’s high notes, but very dimmed, giving it an eerie, welcomed sound. “Angles Cry” brings to mind Mariah’s big signature ballads, it’s one of the best songs she did since her 90’s heydays. The note at the end of the song is captivating. Mariah closes the album with her lacking cover of The Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is”. Overall, the album is a reminiscent of her older work, a very coherent work, and Carey sounds as excellent on her lower register as she does on her high-notes.

Highlights: “Ribbon”, “Inseparable”, “It’s A Wrap”, “The Impossible”, “Angels Cry”

– Fahad AlSabah

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