Whitney Houston, who continues to play side gigs on the big screen with Waiting to Exhale, is the central energy force on the accompanying soundtrack. At the same time, her pop sensibility serves as the point of stylistic departure in this R&B-flavored songfest cooked up by composer/producer Babyface, who shows an uncanny ability to blend Houston's pleasant, soft-edged commerciality with the sexually explicit and cutting-edge hip-hop of TLC (''This Is How It Works'').
A cross-generational affair, Waiting to Exhale combines 16 songs by R&B newcomers (Brandy, Mary J. Blige), royalty (Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, and Chaka Khan, wailing over a funky-lush arrangement of ''My Funny Valentine''), and more off-the-beaten-path soul sisters: Chanté Moore deals in breathy seductive layers with ''Wey U,'' and Sonja Marie takes a hypnotic rap-meets-rhapsody turn with ''And I Gave My Love to You,'' tastefully underlined by the smooth pianisms of Patrice Rushen.
Overall, the album goes down easy, just as you'd expect from a package framed by Whitney Houston tracks the shuffling ''Exhale (Shoop Shoop)'' and the agreeably maudlin capper, ''Count on Me.'' Fittingly, the soundtrack waits to exhale, hovering in sensuous suspense. B