Whitney Houston | Pop review

Birmingham Arena

"I'm feeling pretty good myself," Whitney tells the crowd, "thank you for asking." Nobody had actually asked, but give Houston credit for addressing the big issue – how was she coping on her first British tour since recovering from a drug addiction that wiped out most of the past decade as far as her career was concerned.

"Have a good look," she said, putting her hands on her hips and wriggling the confusion of white satin and silver sparkles she was wearing. She looked pretty good, she sounded pretty good. No, she sounded better than that – contrary to reports from Australia, the pipes were in full working order. Whatever drugs did to her they didn't impede her ability to deliver a song with all flags flying.

Her first UK tour in 11 years began in typically eventful style. It was due to kick off in Manchester last week but she was felled by a respiratory infection that landed her in hospital, fuelling rumours she'd had a drug relapse. She dismissed the speculation as ridiculous and there was no evidence at her opening night in Birmingham that she was anything but engaged and happy to be on stage.

Poor Houston, you can't help but think – she can't catch a cold without being scrutinised. Some of her behaviour here, it's true, petered between the eccentric and the charmingly kooky – she chattered ramblingly between songs, signed an autograph from the stage, started sentences and didn't finish them – but the proof of her sanity was in her singing.

Some of her songs – Saving All My Love for You, The Greatest Love of All – you wouldn't want to hear them if she could not sing them as she used to. But she passed the greatest test easily; she joked that she couldn't reveal what year It's Not Right But It's OK came out because "then you'll know how old I am", but there was little difference between the recorded version and last night's.

There was rather too much of her current album, I Look to You – its less than memorable churning funk clogged up the first half hour and even hearing Houston singing "pull your pants up for the next three minutes" in For the Lovers made up for the tune going on for a good deal longer than three minutes.

The title track was a mawkish devotional number with slide show that depicted a bleak winter landscape turning into lush summer. Yes, yes, we get the message, you've made it through the rain. The stage was crowded with dancers, musicians, and backing vocalists but Houston had no need of their support. She's definitely back.

Contributor

Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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