When you’re as big a star as Houston, you don’t need to write your own material to make a personal statement. For her first new studio album in eight years, she recruited both old colleagues and young talent from the contemporary R&B; and hip-hop communities to come up with songs that reflect her growth as an artist and a woman.
In some cases, those songs don’t sound radically different from Houston’s previous hits. “Until You Come Back,” by Babyface and Darryl Simmons, and Diane Warren’s “You’ll Never Stand Alone” are dramatic, sentimental ballads that function primarily as showcases for Houston’s creamy, resonant voice, still a peerless pop instrument.
But other tunes present more of a musical and emotional stretch. On “In My Business,” a sassy slice of electro-funk contributed by Missy Elliott, Houston confronts those who have questioned the strength of her marriage to singer Bobby Brown. The sinuous “Heartbreak Hotel,” featuring guest vocalists Faith Evans and Kelly Price, and the percolating “It’s Not Right, but It’s Okay” are also street-savvy strong-woman numbers that paint a relatively complex, ambivalent picture of relationships.
Best of all is the title track, an exuberant, reggae-laced bolero written by Wyclef Jean and Jerry Duplessis, which Houston delivers with a joyful urgency that transcends the smooth perfection of her singing. At moments like this, she is at once a preternaturally gifted diva and an earthy soul sister--a woman who for all her virtuosity is still an ambitious work in progress.