Posts from 21st November 2011

Nov 11

WHITNEY HOUSTON – “I Will Always Love You”

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#684, 5th December 1992

If there’s a single technique which – however unfairly – defines 90s and 00s soul music for the British public, it’s melisma, and if there’s a single record that cemented that link, it’s “I Will Always Love You”, at number one for a whole winter, by the end of which it was fixed as either one of pop’s all-time great love songs or one of its most reviled dirges.

Certainly it took me a very long time to scrape away that reflexive distaste and try and listen to the record fresh. There’s no denying that Whitney Houston uses the song as a vocal gymnasium, but the repertoire she shows off isn’t just note-bending and belting. She goes hushed too, clips syllables when she needs to, and lets words drain out into sadness as often as she sets them spinning. As a rule she sustains the “I”s – an unwavering blast of strength – and goes to polysyllabic bits at the end of each “you”, which seems fair enough since the you is the lover she can’t hold onto and must walk away from. Like most songs damned as melismatic showboating there’s plenty of thought involved: technique is hardly ever ‘just’ technique.