Tag Archives: power ballad

On Whitney – Just So We’re Clear

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My girl Erica sent me an email today expressing her hopes that the new Whitney Houston album will give her what she needs from Whitney.

My response (which I think succinctly gets at how I feel bout Whitney):

To be fair, I ain’t never liked her. Or rather, I ain’t never liked what Clive made her. I don’t want I Wanna Dance With Somebody. I don’t even want My Love Is Your Love.

I want Exhale. I want Why Does It Hurt So Bad. I want Heartbreak Hotel. I want My Name is Not Susan.

But here’s the thing. She is working with all the one-trick pony new jacks running around (i.e. the Akon collabo is on the final tracklisting). So what we’re gonna get is what everyone else is doing, but potentially better sung.

Let me be clear: Do. Not. Want.

Frankly – she shoulda took her ass across the border to Philly and had the Soulquarians lace her with some real black shit. Period. The shit that Dre and Vidal did on Usher’s Here I Stand is TRANSCENDANT. I’m sure they could work the same magic. Or Raphael Saadiq. Imagine Whitney, stripped of Clive’s white girl oversinging bullshit, tackling a concoction like I Found My Everything.

Short of that, I ain’t interested. Period. End of discussion.

Extreme? Yea, lil bit. But my feelings about Whitney Houston are like that. Her instrument is damn near peerless, but the best I can say for her body of work is that its inconsistent.  Except Exhale, which I contend is the best thing she’s ever recorded and the best showcase for her interpretive vocal gifts, even the songs I cite above are merely decent.

Like aging divas before her (Mariah and Janet), she’ll chase trendy instead of transcendant.  And people will eat it up because, given what she’s been through, we want her to succeed.

I too would like to see her succeed; my definition of success for her is just different.

Best of the Rest: Shanice’s Don’t Break My Heart

 

Shanice94 Shanice is among a generation of singers that never quite found a suitable home in the industry because the music industry has never quite known what to do with vocalists who can pretty much do anything (see Melba Moore, Phyllis Hyman, Joi Gilliam, Betty Davis, Vesta, Stephanie Mills, and Minnie Ripperton, to name just a few).  Often they get saddled with schlock, as Shanice often was, or they waste their skills on whichever power ballad or trendy-jocking sound they can ride to stardom (see Whitney and Mariah).

This song is more or less a power ballad, written by ‘Face collaborator Daryl Simmons, who doesn’t overdue the sentiment here.  Shanice elevates the song effortlessly.  Great vocalists make the best of power ballads, which tend to be driven more by overblown orchestration than melody or emotion. If you listen, her singing is strong and her phrasing more than does the job of injecting the requisite emotion into the song.  Her gifts have rarely been so well-utilized.

More:
Best of the Rest – Full List
Best of the Rest – Explained

Best of the Rest: Babyface’s Where Will You Go

Tender Lover album cover This closing track from Face’s breakthrough album, Tender Lover, is the anti-power ballad power ballad and probably one of the greatest songs he’s ever written and recorded.  It has all the hallmarks of a great Face song, but with none of the melodrama and soulless “phoning it in-ness” of his post-Waiting To Exhale work.  This is the case because of the one trait that Babyface possesses in spades that few of his other contemporaries do — perfect phrasing.

This song should be a master class in how to approach a song as a vocalist.  Every moment in the song is so perfectly, expertly performed that its quite surprising that the song is still so damn affecting.  The vocalizing at the end is so precise, but it feels the way it should — like an emotional release. Few vocalists can be so specific and yet sound fresh and spontaneous.  It’s a real gift.

Babyface has never really been given his due as a solo artist, but Tender Lover is an overlooked classic of the late-80s black music renaissance.

More:
Best of the Rest – Full List
Best of the Rest – Explained