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Wall Of Sound's Review
Whitney Houston
My Love Is Your Love
Label: Arista
Genre: Soul/R&B
Rating:  80/100

Like so many vocalists of considerable talent--and hers is comparable to any pop diva, past or present--Whitney Houston has always been the product of her producers. And with the exception of her 1985 debut album, none of them have harnessed Houston's versatility into consistently realized work. But that changes on My Love Is Your Love, Houston's first non-soundtrack outing in eight years and easily the best of all her recordings so far, even though it was reportedly assembled with great haste. It's not like there was a great degree of commercial pressure for Houston to prove herself this time out; after all, she's been a multimillion selling, mega-hit artist from the get-go, and her three soundtracks this decade--The Bodyguard, The Preacher's Wife, and Waiting To Exhale--have sold nearly 50 million copies between them. But soundtracks are a bit easier to pull off; they require just a few tracks at most, and the films usually provide some thematic guidance, not to mention a built-in promotional tool. As far as her own releases are concerned, Houston's still been under the lingering shadow of doubt about her ability to pull together not just a collection of some strong songs, but an album full of 'em.

On My Love Is Your Love, Houston reaches out to collaborators both old (Babyface, David Foster, Diane Warren) and new (Missy Elliott, Rodney Jerkins, Soulshock and Karlin, and Fugees Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill) for a blend of diverse sonic styles whose breadth provides exactly the kind of kick and bite that's been missing from its more conventionally pop predecessors. Babyface, for instance, cloaks her in familiar, lush pop productions such as "Until You Come Back," "I Bow Out" and "You'll Never Stand Alone," while Foster achieves a kind of soul noir on "I Learned From the Best."

The others offer more stark approaches, from the trippy flavor of Wyclef's title track to the swirling sound of Jerkins' "Get It Back" and the light polyrhythms of his album-opening "It's Not Right, But It's Okay" (he also hooks Houston up with Faith Evans and Kelly Price for a girl-talk vocal wave on "Heartbreak Hotel").

Elliott's tracks take divergent approaches; Houston murmurs while Elliott delivers her trademark grunt on "In My Business," while "Oh Yes" incorporates flute and acoustic guitar into a disarming arrangement that's spare yet smooth. And the Hill-produced "I Was Made To Love Him"--a tweaked rendition of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made To Love Her" that wasn't finished in time for the album's artwork and is therefore its "bonus track"--is a rich celebration of stuttering rhythms and layered vocals. It also helps that Houston instituted a particular focus on the album--songs of living and, especially, loving, a direct reflection of her tumultuous (to the media eye, at least) marriage to fellow singer Bobby Brown. Cutting a wide emotional swath, she chastises a cheating lover in "It's Not Right, But It's Okay," "I Bow Out," and "I Learned From the Best" but also declares devotion in "Oh Yes," "You'll Never Stand Alone," and "I Was Made To Love Him." "In My Business" slaps at rumor-mongers, asking "Tell me why those 'hos don't like me," while the title track--which features a few vocal snippets from the couple's daughter, Bobbie Kristina--announces, "It would take an eternity to break us."

Only "When You Believe," her duet with Mariah Carey from The Prince of Egypt, stands outside the thematic line and might have been better placed at the end of the album. Nevertheless, My Love Is Your Love boasts the kind of strong, personal investiture that's been missing from all of Houston's other records, an indication that the eight-year break was as good for her artistry as it was for her bank account. --Gary Graff