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My Love Is Your Love

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As news spread two weeks ago that Whitney Houston's first studio album in eight years was ready, no one seemed more surprised or pleased than her record company, Arista.

All BMG's affiliates knew she had gone into the studio to put down two or three new tracks for a greatest hits package that would probably be ready in time for Christmas. There had even been talk of enough material to make a new album. But no one knew they would receive a blockbuster collection of 13 new and contemporary tracks that was put together in just eight weeks.

But that was precisely what Arista worldwide president Clive Davis was able to unveil at a hastily-convened session in Paris's Le Neil ’s club last week where he played and talked through the album.

Even Davis and Houston, the album's executive producers, had started off in late summer with a Best Of collection in mind. The spark was when Jeffrey Katzenberg, one third of the DreamWorks founding triumvirate, invited Davis to a private preview screening of the Christmas animated movie Prince Of Egypt. Davis liked what he saw and asked Houston to come down and see the film as well. The penultimate scene featuring the two main female characters singing a duet was seen as a perfect opportunity to end rumours of rivalry between Houston and Mariah Carey and so the pair linked up to record When You Believe.

It was only then that Davis started contacting producers and writers to submit tracks to add to a greatest hits package. Among the first two to come in were It Ain't Right, But It's Okay – an up-tempo floor-filler from Rodney Jerkins, the rising star who scored a huge hit earlier this year with Brandy & Monica hit's Boy Is Mine – and Heartbreak Hotel, written by Tamara Savage and Soulshock & Karlin.

Davis then contacted Fugee Wyclef Jean and played him these tracks. "He was totally blown away and said 'I want to be part of this, I'm gonna to write the song of my life'," says the record company veteran. Jean came back with the album's title track My Love Is Your Love and it was only at this point that Davis and Houston started thinking about a new album.

He says the important consideration when picking songs and producers for the project was firstly for everyone to understand that this was Houston ’s first studio album in eight years. The other crucial consideration was to come up with a younger, more contemporary sound that would attract new listeners without alienating Houston ’s huge established fanbase. The result is an impressive cast of a virtual who-is-who in contemporary black music. The album features three tracks written and produced by Jerkins, two from Missy Elliot, one each from Fugees' Wyclef and Lauryn Hill and one from Tamara Savage and Danish production team Soulshock and Karlin. Meanwhile, the veterans are by no means left out: Diane Warren contributes three songs, one produced by David Foster and two produced by Babyface, who also writes and produces one of his own.

The 35-year-old Houston says she found working with the younger producers like Jerkins (aged 19) and Elliot (25) both fulfilling and educational. "You have to keep with what the current groove is because today's music is basically youth-orientated with lots of beats and rhythms,†she says. "I had a lot of fun making this album," she adds.

Both the grooves and lyrics bring more of a street and cutting-edge feel to My Love Is Your Love than is present in any of Houston's previous work. And notably Davis and Houston have achieved this without going down the Eighties hit re-make and blatant sampling route. Most of the material was written with Houston in mind or, after discussions with Houston, about her experiences, especially those since becoming a wife and mother. "I wouldn’t necessarily define this album as street or less-ballad driven. I just didn't feel like singing about I Will Always Love You," she says simply.

The album will be released worldwide on November 16, two weeks before the first single, When You Believe, which will appear on Columbia (and will feature on Carey's hits set as well as DreamWorks' Prince Of Egypt OST). Inevitably Houston's album is likely to benefit from the $100m advertising budget for the Prince Of Egypt movie and soundtrack, as well as Columbia's Carey campaign and BMG's own pre-Christmas album push.

The next single, It's Not Right, But It's Okay, will receive an "enormous" push in January, according to BMG UK president Jeremy Marsh, and will be supported by a UK promotional tour including major TV appearances like Top Of The Pops and possibly the National Lottery. Subsequent singles will appear in April and July prior to a Christmas 1999 album push.

"This album will re-establish Whitney with her existing audience but also find her lots of new younger fans, particularly with the Rodney Jerkins tracks," Marsh says. Neither Davis nor Marsh are prepared to talk sales predictions. It's easy to see why – Houston's first three albums set a daunting benchmark with their combined sales worldwide of more than 57m units. And then there are the soundtrack albums which were significantly carried by her big singles. Waiting To Exhale was described as the definite Nineties R&B album, Preacher's Wife is the best-selling gospel album of all time and Bodyguard, with sales of 33.6m, is both the biggest-selling soundtrack and biggest-selling CD of all time. Altogether Houston has helped Arista sell more than 100m records in her 13-year career.

Watching and listening to the excited reactions from the senior BMG European executives who attended the Paris session last week, My Love Is Your Love's clever blend of youth and experience could see even a superstar diva like Whitney Houston break new ground and build an even more remarkable record.

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