Here's the good news: "Million Dollar Bill," the first official single from Whitney Houston's Aug. 31 album, is a sassy slice of rhythmic pop that is reminiscent of the verve and brio of "I'm Every Woman" (though it's not as good). Listen for yourself here.
The bad news is that although Houston sounds leagues better than she sounded on the title track, "I Look to You," which started streaming on Houston's website last month, she still sounds raspy and a little hoarse on the verses. She starts strong and there are some lovely parts where she's holding notes, but by and large, there is still none of the vocal pyrotechniques or powerhouse belting or even the snazzy phrasing that Houston displayed in her heyday. Oh, she's still head and shoulders above 99% of the singers, but so far, from the two songs we've heard, she's at about 75% of her vocal power. Again, we'll reserve judgment until we hear the whole album and see what else she and executive producer Clive Davis have in store for us.
We'll say this much-and this is no surprise--Arista is certainly bringing out the big guns for Houston. R. Kelly penned "I Look to You," while Alicia Keys co-wrote "Million Dollar Bill." The song, produced by Keys and Swizz Beatz, is a feel-good toe tapper about how a girl's fella makes her feel like a "Million Dollar Bill".... I guess that was easier to rhyme than the more common phrase of making someone feel like "a million bucks." The song smartly samples "We're Getting Stronger," from disco diva Loleatta Holloway's 1976 self-titled album. That may be why the song sounds so retro.