Pop stardom has its privileges. Unlike schoolteachers and tax accountants, creative types with personal demons are often able to take what doesn't kill them and emerge not only stronger, but with a new sort of depth and pathos and often, a wider audience for the pain they turn into art.
I Look to You, Whitney Houston's first album in seven years, doesn't pretend to offer the unblemished 21-year-old we met on her smash 1985 debut, but it never truly lets listeners inside the heart and head of the woman she is today. A number of tracks obliquely reference her well- documented dark times, from the midtempo club jam ''Nothin' but Love'' (''I could hold on to pain but that ain't what my life's about/ I ain't blaming nobody if I don't have my stuff worked out'') to the soaring, shamelessly schmaltzy title track ("every road that I've taken/Led to my regret"). Houston's famous voice, which now sounds husky and glottal, as if her vocal cords were sent through a washer-dryer cycle with a handful of small rocks, brings a gravity that the album's often generically worded ballads lack. Still, she seems relieved to turn to lighter stuff, like the saucy-sweet Alicia Keys collaboration ''Million Dollar Bill'' and airy Akon duet ''Like I Never Left.''
On the album's thumping coda, ''Salute,'' Houston refers to herself as a ''soldier girl'' (''I took the fall, now I stand tall''), but listeners may feel shut out of the fight. Whatever hardship she's endured, the battles within remain a mystery. B–Download This: Listen to the song Million Dollar Bill at imeem.com