Saturday, 8 August 2009

1987 Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)

Despite a voluminous back catalogue, Whitney Houston only really has two songs; the emotive boo hoo power ballad and the more upbeat number designed for cutting a rug to. Unfortunately, she only has one pre-set mode to sing either, and that's to trowel herself all over with gutbusting abandon and smother what's left with schmaltz.

'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' is a case in point. It's a dance number, but whether by accident or design the backing music is an anaemically thin splash of rootless, squelchy electronica that's mixed low and at all times plays second fiddle to Houston's vocal. With three strikes against it, it sounds tired and bored with itself before it even gets going and the hissily tinny stop start structure can barely keep up with the vocal, always lagging one Corporal Jones step behind Houston's lead.

Luckily, Whitney is at hand to chivvy it along with some opening whoops and yelps that sound like the warm up act to a quiz show trying to convince the audience that they are going to be in for a great time. But unfortunately, they are not. Because as generic as the music may be (and it is, very), Houston's vocal rides a rail with a metronomic predictability that does nothing to rock the boat.

To give an example, every time she breaks into the chorus (which is an awful lot of times over the course of nearly five minutes), her strung out 'Oh!'s and her rising pronunciation of 'heat' on the second line are delivered in the same overblown, identikit style every single time. It sounds like a one shot take being endlessly recycled or resampled rather than a developing interpretation and empathy with the lyrics.

Just as the delivery never varies, neither does it ever convince and it adds a further layer of predictability into a song that was already a textbook definition of predictability; Houston is just there to sing the words as loudly and flashily as she can. Interpretation is beyond her remit and the robotic, one dimensional approach renders the song wallpaper flat.

'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' has substance, but it's a cold, mortuary slab of a song, an emotional vacuum with everything that makes up a human sucked out until all that's left is a voice. A voice that, despite the lyrics, is really only singing 'listen to me, listen to me' like an attention seeking child. And with such a wanton display of egocentricity, she only has herself to blame that nobody wants to dance with her.

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