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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Whitney: In Voice but Over the Top!!

August 24, 1993|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

HOLLYWOOD — I will always love my computer, but some-ome-ome - thing KEEPS going wro-on-on-ng!!

It's starting to act the way Whitney Houston sings: endlessly holding syllables, over-dramatizing words at random, and ending almost every line with an exclamation point or two.

To say that Houston possesses the greatest voice in pop music isn't the same as saying she's the greatest singer.

An outstanding voice consists of power, range and authority. A great singer must have intimacy, phrasing and a respect for melody and lyric. Houston is blessed with all of the former, but little of the latter, which can make her concerts excruciating for anyone other than worshipful fans.

You know how it is on those nights when a performer is so captivating on stage that you wish the concert could go on forever? Well, at Houston's concert on Sunday at the sold-out Hollywood Bowl, the 10:30 p.m. curfew seemed merciful.

I- ee-i-ee-i don't know what her middle name is, but how about OVERKILL?! (Whoops, sorry.)

The only thing modest about Houston's Bowl concert was the length of her time on stage.

Looking regal in a floor-length, body-hugging black velvet dress, Houston came on stage at 9 p.m. after two warm-up acts. She left after 40 minutes for a 15-minute intermission, then returned for the final 35 minutes.

Houston, whose manner on stage used to be as plain as a manila envelope, is trying to assert more personality this time around--talking more to the audience and skipping around at the start of the night like a cheerful camp counselor.

But any hopes that her starring role in the film "The Bodyguard" would give her a more confident or commanding presence in concert vanished quickly Sunday.

Both her remarks (including a reference in one song to hubby Bobby Brown) and movements seemed all too canned, underscoring the lack of spontaneity in Houston's music.

Her choice of material ranged from the expected hits--the old, but still perky "I Wanna Dance With Somebody"--to some tunes from "The Bodyguard," including "I Have Nothing" and "Jesus Loves Me," to a medley that combined material from "Porgy and Bess" and "Dreamgirls."

The latter's "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" was meant as a show-stopper, delivered with finger-pointing, chest-thumping, foot-stomping histrionics. Once again, however, there was a void at the emotional center of her performance.

*

Houston's torch-like rendition certainly generated fury and fire, but it was all fury and fire--the kind of one-dimensional display that could have been unleashed on any of a number of songs.

After intermission, Houston sported a red jump suit, vaguely reminiscent of the kind Elvis Presley wore in the '70s in Las Vegas. It didn't help. The patter was still stilted and the vocals--backed by her aggressive band--remained full-bodied, but passionless.

So what's ahead for Houston, who also appears Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts?

More films, more hit records, to be sure. But is she ever going to develop the interpretive qualities that will enable her to go from being known as a great voice to being hailed as a great singer?

When she arrived on the scene almost a decade ago, that transition seemed fully possible.

But she's 30 now and ti-ie-ie-me MAY be running out!!

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