Whitney Houston's Greatest Hits
Whitney Houston has a problem. Not much of one I admit, since no matter what I say about this DVD it will probably sell a lot of discs, and even if she never sold another one she could retire to the French Riviera and live in style on her wealth from her prior accomplishments. But she does have a small problem: me. See, first I don't like music videos in general that much, second I don't like pop music much, and third I'm not much of a Whitney Houston fan. This disc combines all three of these personal dislikes but I'm the guy given the nod to do the review. So let me try to set my personal biases aside and give you the straight scoop on this compilation of Whitney's well…Greatest hits. Certainly fans will be happy with the disc, with plenty of music, behind the scenes stuff, interviews, and rare footage, including her first television appearance at age 19. The main part of the disc, aside from the bonus music, is all remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Arista I'm sure has a winning disc on its hands.
Before I get a bunch of letters saying "Whitney Houston is the greatest singer who ever lived" or something like that, I'll give you that she has immense talent. Few artists have ever had her vocal range, power, and ability. She can sing almost anything and make it a hit. She pretty much proved that by making her version of "The Star Spangled Banner" a big hit on the radio. How many times have you heard someone sing our national anthem and then forgot all about it? Not when Whitney does it. And for me, the highlight of this disc is track 11 where the live performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl XXV awaits. I don't think anyone has ever sung it better. And certainly her track record speaks for itself: she has more number one hits in a row than any other artist bar none.
Especially given her natural talent, it seems almost inevitable that Whitney Houston would become a star. Her mother is Cissy Houston was an R&B singer of no small accomplishment herself, she is cousins with Dionne Warwick, and her godmother is Aretha Franklin. With that kind of talent around her growing up it is certain she got the encouragement and yes, foot in the door she needed. Of course, without her talent and ability that would have been all it was.
There are a few live performances on the disc, and those did rise above the quality of many of the music videos. I found it a bit ironic that the live performance would have better sound quality than the studio mixes that Whitney lip-synchs over for the videos, but it is true. Even the video quality is better. The music videos have pretty uneven quality, which is understandable given up to a ten-year gap in between the earliest and latest videos. Most of them are soft, like they came from a videotape source rather than a good film print, which is likely the case. There aren't any other real problems with them; there aren't any major artifacts or edge enhancement issues to worry about. Just not as sharp as I've come to expect from DVD.
The sound is of course the most important part of a music DVD, and fans won't be disappointed. Much. Yes, all the music (except for the bonus footage) is remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1. It's adequate. It sounds pretty much like the original videos probably did. Surrounds are mainly used as reverb for the fronts, but they don't have enough punch to be very audible on a calibrated system. There was surprisingly little bass response, where not once did my subwoofer really wake up, even for music that I expected it to. Still the sound was clear and free of distortion, and the front soundstage was wide and spacious enough, especially compared to the Dolby 2.0 track which was very thin and compressed sounding.
The extra content is a nice package for Whitney fans. She gives an interview, which is intercut with clips from her music videos, followed by a short interview with her long-time manager Clive Davis. There is also a behind the scenes section of her photo shoot for the DVD. The "Special Performances" section is the meat of the extras though. It contains five more performances, including the original Merv Griffin Show appearance from before she was a star. The bonus videos are less easy to describe, since basically they are the same thing as the disc itself. Is a music video a bonus feature on a disc full of music videos? Here I guess it is. There is also a behind the scenes featurette for the making of her latest album "My Love is Your Love," and a clip of her song in Disney's "Cinderella" and an MTV news item about Whitney's appearance at a gay rights rally. That's not quite all though. One of her latest songs, "I Learned From the Best," which has a video on the main disc, gets three different versions of it on a bonus CD. The three versions of this song, including the original, a disco version and yet another more upbeat remix are the only tracks on the bonus CD but its there. Sound quality is actually superior on the bonus CD than in any of the bonus footage, which was also in Dolby 2.0. None are quite as good as the main section of the disc's 5.1 tracks. I should mention that there are subtitles allowing you to follow the lyrics with each song and music video, a feature I think should be standard on all music discs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So what's not to like? Well, the songs. I admit I'm not the target audience for her stuff; I doubt she was thinking of aging white rock and rollers for her demographic. But turn on the lyric subtitles and I had to cringe: "Doo Doo" "Ooh" "Ah" "Oh."…actual lyrics printed on the screen as she sings. Pop music is full of such trivial sounds that do nothing but try to sound nice. When I was writing music I would sometimes fall into the "pop trash" slump and find myself using the word "baby" and not referring to an infant. Of course her music isn't just that kind of drivel. Mostly her songs are love songs, man-done-me-wrong songs, "I will survive" songs, and the same type of stuff I'd write when going through a new relationship and the subsequent breakup and hurt feelings. God save me from relationships when I'm trying to write music. At any rate, my problem with Whitney's music is that too much of it is the same. It's mainly some variation of "I love you, you're the greatest," "You weren't the greatest after all, I'm hurt now," or "You were a jerk and now I'm getting over you."
Who am I to judge? She's made millions singing this stuff. As a songwriter I turned into a fair film critic. The only reason I give my opinion is that's my job when I get a disc for review. Still I wish she would take a risk and try something outside her genre. Move into Aretha Franklin type stuff. Do something.
As is usual with music discs, you either are a fan of the artist or you're not. Fans should buy this disc, just for the background footage alone, and of course they'll probably be happy with the compilation of music videos. Others might give it a rental or give it a pass. As for me, I'll find someone who is a fan and give them this copy. I'm not a fan and it won't get much play here.
Whitney Houston doesn't need my acquittal but I'll give it to her anyway. She's free to go make more music or do anything else she likes. I wish her and Arista records the best.
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• Bonus Performances
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