So last night I went to Clive Davis and Whitney Houston’s listening party for her new album at the Beverly Hilton. (Thank you Carmen Cacciatore!)
HOW DID SHE LOOK? Let’s just get that out of the way right off the bat. She looked elegant. Put-together. Vaguely muppet-like from all the injectable fillers in her face. And NOT HIGH. In short: We were in the presence of THE LEGEND Whitney, not the HELL-TO-THE-NO/BOBBY-PULL-THE-POO-OUT-OF-MY-BUTT Whitney.
WHO WAS THERE? Well, it was a slow build up the celebrity list, from the Zs to the As. It started with a dribble of the usual suspects: “Old Hollywood” types like Nikki Haskell, Barbara Davis, Jackie Collins, Penny Marshall… Then came industry legends Diane Warren, David Foster, Barry Manilow, and Motown legend Suzanne de Passe… Brett Ratner heralded both the douchebag element and “New Hollywood”… Then suddenly, in a blaze of paparazzi flashes, was Magic Johnson (who was TALL) kissing Halle Berry (who was SMALL, and dressed in a wildly inappropriate “LOOK AT ME!” pink Barbie doll gown). And while that was interesting, I still wasn’t REALLY impressed until JANE FONDA pushed her way into the photo op, looking all of 30-years-old. I swear to God, the woman was radiant, fabulous, A REAL STAR. (I think she must have a project coming up, though, because she has been EVERYWHERE lately. Really hitting the red carpets. Or maybe she’s just lonely and drunk.) Anyway, that was when the curtain opened and we all ushered to our seats in the grand ballroom. Clive Davis ambled onto the stage and started mumbling shout-outs to his friends (“Jackie Collins everyone! Jackie, my darling, I was just on the beach in St. Tropez with your sister Joan – *wait for the applause* – when I played her this first song. She started sobbing: ‘Our girl is back’ AND SO SHE IS!”). We listened to a few songs, when all of a sudden security started buzzing and a murmer went through the crowd. We all turned to see what the commotion was, as STEVIE WONDER started smashing his way down the aisle. And that was as A-list as it got. I gotta admit, even this old jaded queen got goosebumps at seeing Stevie Wonder bang into a row of chairs and knock over a few drinks. Fabulous!
HOW WERE THE SONGS? Fine. Fine. Whatevs. Lots of Whitney-esque dance songs. Yes, we’ll being hearing them on the radio and in the clubs for the next year and a half. The best? Gotta be “Million Dollar Bill,” the song that Alicia Keye’s wrote for her. And that took a lot for me to say, because I HATE ALICIA KEYES. The second best was the duet with Akon. Inexplicably, there’s only one ballad on the whole album, the dreary “I Didn’t Know my Own Strength.” I get that it’s supposed to be a wink-wink reference to Bobby and crack and all the hard times she’s been through, and yes it adds another layer to the song, but somehow you just keep expecting it to soar to another level, and it doesn’t. It feels sort of half-hearted. Anyway, that being said, her voice is still there on ALL the songs, it’s not as ravaged as one might imagine after a decade of hitting the crack pipe. So good for her. Hope for us all, etc.
BUT HERE’S MY ONLY QUIBBLE: It seems to me that at this point in her life and her career, she doesn’t NEED to be competing with Ne-Yo’s fans and the Black Eyed Pea’s fans for dance hits. She’s done it. In a couple of years, it might begin to seem unseemly for her age. Like Madonna, or Ethyl Merman’s disco album. I’d like to see Whitney take on Broadway, gospel, standards, maybe some Cole Porter, a little Gershwin. I’d love to hear her take on Porgy & Bess. She could do a helluva “Miss Otis Regrets.” I think she even has the emotional depth and the slightly rawer voice now to try her hand at some Billie Holiday material. Remember Aretha tried OPERA, for God’s sake, and Babs tackled Sondheim – and they remain some of the high points of their ouvres. I’m not saying for her to GIVE UP on pop, dance or R & B… I just wish she’d try to conquer some unfamiliar terrain. We KNOW she can do a club hit. I don’t need a WHOLE ALBUM of nothing but slightly sub-par ones. If she really is, as Clive kept reminding us, the heir to Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, and Frank freakin Sinatra, then I wish she’d start acting like it.