Of course Whitney Houston can sing. That is a given. But when is she gonna get something worth singing? Throughout her career, it has seemed like Mrs. Bobby Brown’s prerogative to wrap that magnificent voice around songs that are generic at best. That is all too true of her work on the soundtrack for The Bodyguard, the empty-headed movie in which she stars with Kevin Costner. The album has six new tracks by Houston and a hodgepodge of label filler.
Houston’s portion is evenly divided between (a) the pleasantly efficient, yet soulless stuff from her three albums and (b) two stunning cover versions, whose selection is both artistically satisfying and uncharacteristically hip for the MOR songbird.
”I Will Always Love You,” as originally done by Dolly Parton, was simple and hymnlike, a plaintive, almost mournful farewell to love. In Houston’s hands, the chorus becomes an unbridled declaration of intent, as though she’s daring her ex-lover to ever doubt her word. Just as triumphant is her tackling of Chaka Khan’s signature tune, ”I’m Every Woman.” To take on another diva’s material requires the female equivalent of cojones, and Houston (wisely) doesn’t muck around with the original’s overall tone or arrangement. But she sure does it justice, even adding a sly ”Chaka” shout-out as the cut fades.
The Bodyguard’s second half is a crapshoot. Sensitive soul stud Curtis Stigers pulls a Bolton, turning Elvis Costello’s ”(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” into a beer commercial. On the bright side, S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M., the new project from C+C’s music factory, offers a rappified remake of Bill Withers’ ”It’s Gonna Be a Lovely Day.” And ”Someday (I’m Coming Back)” is a real beauty from dancing queen Lisa Stansfield. In fact, Stansfield could teach Houston a thing or two about finding the right material. Maybe one day Houston will get to hook up with an entire album of seriously happening songs or juicy standards. And wouldn’t that be a treat? B