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My Love Is Your Love

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Houston Bares Her Soul hide

The diva's latest album seems to show a different, darker side to her life

For all her Grammy awards, assorted accolades and that classically distinctive voice, Whitney Houston is perhaps best known for creating two of the most memorable pop ballads of this generation. The Greatest Love Of All and I Will Always Love You are karaoke classics that ooze the kind of structured, over-the-top emotion that Houston has mastered.

But with her recently released album, My Love Is Your Love, the soulstress is showing a side that hasn't been seen before.

"I wasn't into the syrupy kind of vibe. I just didn't feel like singing about I Will Always Love You," she recently told Billboard magazine. "I'm a working mother, I'm a wife, I'm an artist. There are so many things that go into that, and it's not always like, 'Everything is beautiful in its own way.'"

If Houston's previous work reeked of gushy over-sentimentality that didn't quite fit with real life, her latest effort sounds incredibly personal. Despite the album's unconventional disclaimer that "The events and characters depicted in this album are fictitious ..." there is plenty on here that sounds like the 35-year-old crooner's life.

In My Business was co-written and produced specifically for Houston. "I based that song upon Whitney," said pop hip-hop hit-maker of the moment, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott. "I wanted to write thinking that this is how she would feel."

The track, replete with hip-hop scratches and Elliott's trademark spoken word backing vocals, addresses the media's fascination with the state of Houston's marriage to fellow R&B star Bobby Brown.

Houston has been quick to deny that the seven-year marriage is in any real difficulty, although the couple did separate briefly last year, and despite Brown's much publicised "bad boy" behaviour.

Brown's history is replete with alcohol abuse and stints in jail. In 1996, he slammed his wife's Porsche into a road sign, apparently intoxicated and high from cocaine.

In September, Brown was arrested again in Florida for drink-driving. According to reports, when he showed up at Broward County Jail to serve his five-day sentence, he was inebriated again. Another arrest warrant was issued and reports last week said he had turned himself in.

Houston hasn't been exempt from rumours of drug abuse. "I'm not going to tell you that Bobby and I are angels, because we're not. No, I'm not a drug addict, and neither is my husband," she told Newsweek in a recent interview. And then there is the issue of Brown's alleged philandering ways, which Houston appears to address with a vehemence in the opening track It's Not Right But It's Okay. Produced by Rodney Jerkins, the track tells her cheating lover that she's moving on.

But in a recent interview with African American magazine Ebony, Houston declared her love for her husband.

"We're good. We go through our ups and downs, but we vowed to do it forever, to fight hard and to love hard and to fight hard for the love," she said.

In her time in the limelight, Houston's love life is not the only thing that has been up for public debate. According to Florida news reports, Brown's lawyer Fred Haddad recently quit, calling Houston a "wannabe diva."

And there is still the issue of her long-standing rivalry with another soul diva who apparently has an equally grandiose ego to boot.

Houston recently described her relationship with Mariah Carey, who duets with her on When You Believe, the Babyface-penned, anthemic theme from animated film Prince Of Egypt:

"We came together to sing; we didn't come together to fight," she said at the New York press conference for the album last month.

"Mariah and I never had a rivalry because I didn't know her well enough to have one with her, and she didn't know me well enough to have one with me. So when we met, we got to know each other, and now we're friends, really."

Encompassing gospel, pop, R&B and hip-hop, her latest effort is likely to solidify her current base as well as expose her to an entirely new generation of fans.

"I wouldn't necessarily define this album as street or less ballad driven," she said. "You have to keep with what the current groove is because today's music is basically youth-oriented with lots of beats and rhythms."

Houston however is no stranger to widespread commercial appeal. In her 13-year singing career, she has sold over 100 million records, and amassed five Grammys, 21 American Music Awards and 15 Billboard Music Awards.

In addition to the success of the 1985 eponymous debut, 1987's Whitney and 1990's I'm Your Baby Tonight, Houston has turned herself into a soundtrack queen.

The soundtrack to The Bodyguard, in which she co-starred with Kevin Costner, racked up 32 million record sales, making it the best selling soundtrack of all time. She followed that up with tracks from Waiting To Exhale, in which she co-starred with Angela Bassett, and then The Preacher's Wife, where she played opposite Denzel Washington.

It has been eight years since Houston released an album that didn't have a film to promote it. And although she claims that all her music is "really me," My Love Is Your Love is the closest the music industry has come to seeing Houston bared.

As she told Ebony: "If you've done everything that you can and you've exhausted all your avenues, then you just tell God. And then I went back to my roots. I had to come back home."

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