I’m Your Baby Tonight

Whitney Houston

Arista, 1990

http://www.whitneyhouston.com

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/29/2020

Whitney Houston’s third studio album I’m your Baby Tonight was almost a year in the making and so highly conceptualized that it was almost doomed from the start. With her first two albums, 1985’s self-titled debut and 1987’s imaginatively titled Whitney, Houston had fast become one of the most commercially successful artists of the decade. Her name was money in the bank. And despite both of those albums selling truckloads daily, supported by massive hit singles, musically speaking, they are both generically bland pop-lite albums produced slyly for the masses by the master of this particular craft, Clive Davis.

Sales figures were always going to be strong for Houston anyway; she was a stunning former model who possessed possibly the most beautiful singing voice the world has ever heard. No issues with the all-important third album in that regard either as it eventually posted sales in excess of ten million worldwide. The issue was with Whitney herself, having suffered years of criticism due to her music being so bland that R&B audiences and radio considered it straightforward pop and refused to support it. Houston was famously booed and jeered at the 1989 Soul Train Awards for this very reason, she was openly criticised for selling out to “white” audiences at the behest of her mentor/mogul/label boss Clive Davis.

So beginning in late 1989 and not completed for nearly a year, I’m Your Baby Tonight was painstakingly created to address all of this and hopefully show that Houston could cut it with the edgier, urban-based R&B scene. Upon the album’s release, however it was clearly evident that she couldn’t, not at least with the particular assembled team guiding her. Houston was given more creative control for this project and employed the likes of L.A. Reid and Babyface, Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, and her trusted producers Narada Michael Walden and Michael Masser. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It is most likely unfair to place the blame with any one person as it seems so many played a part in putting together what is on offer here, and although it sold so well, it just didn’t get close to achieving what it was supposed to. The tracks themselves are largely uninspired and generic, the lyrics for the most part are more of the same carried over from Houston’s first two records, and the sheen on the production is even glossier than it was on its predecessors – if that’s even possible. Whitney herself, however, was such a charismatic and lovable creature that her voice alone is such a joy to hear and there are some moments here where she really does save the day, but unfortunately, they are few and far between.

When it works, the record isn’t half bad – highlights are the easy groove of “I Belong To You,” the superior ballad “All The Man That I Need,” and the House-lite “My Name Is Not Susan,” which remains one of the most fun tracks she ever put down. No less than six tracks were lifted from the record and released as singles including the aforementioned highlights. The other three don’t fare so well, “Miracle” is one of the sappiest ballads in the Houston catalogue, of which there was already a surplus. “We Didn’t Know” written, produced, and recorded as a duet with Stevie Wonder, is a dance pop track that Wonder could write in his sleep, and while their voices blend beautifully together, it’s just not a great song.

The first single released was the title track, which was remixed to include a punchier intro and sharper rhythm track for its single release; but the version included here to open the album is the original track, pre-makeover. It defies logic why the team would realise the track needed a shot of something to make it stand out as a single and then not use it to open this all-important album. Vocally, however, Houston did give her all with this album and her heart was clearly into it 100%. She single-handedly elevated generic dance tracks like “Anymore,” “I’m Knocking,” and “Who Do You Love” to almost solid ground. Her vocals across the entire album are full of passion and fiery determination. Ultimately, though, even a voice as powerful and passionate as Whitney’s wasn’t enough to save the day here, as it is the material that really let’s her down.

There’s nothing to rival the hard-hitting bangers that filled Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, no ground-breaking pop gems like Madonna dished up on her seminal Like A Prayer LP, and certainly nothing as funky that Prince was doing at the time.

This entire record just feels like an opportunity missed and that’s something that would hamper Whitney Houston’s career until the end. The closest she ever came to putting together a truly great album was in 1998 with the fantastic My Love Is Your Love. This is a great shame because it makes listening to her phenomenal voice a lot harder than it should be.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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