No matter how much it gets talked about, dissected, dismissed, or lionized, it’s still damn near impossible to oversell the impact of Whitney Houston’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You”.
Taking a country chart-topper from Dolly Parton that never really broke out into the mainstream and making it the signature takeaway from the soundtrack to a romantic action-drama starring Houston and Kevin Costner, “I Will Always Love You”, layered with that so-cheesy-it-works David Foster production, highlighted Houston at the peak of her powers, which itself is amazing given how many highs she had already hit. Any diva could give a halfway decent run of the song, but by dressing the performance with so much sap that the emotional honesty in Houston’s voice was able to shine through, “I Will Always Love You” helped propel the soundtrack it was culled from into Grammy history. It made the album one of the 15 best selling records of all time and eventually turned into Whitney Houston’s signature song, which in itself is a feat given that she scored no less than nine chart-topping singles before that.
As much as The Bodyguard was a true pop cultural phenomenon — the album topping the charts for 20 weeks, the movie receiving not one but two Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song — let’s be blunt here: it hasn’t aged particularly well. Arriving two years after the widely dismissed (but solid-selling) dance infusion that was Houston’s third album I’m Your Baby Tonight, The Bodyguard is landlocked in its of-the-era production choices: syrupy keyboards mixing in with string swells and thin drum sounds. The mark of any great song isn’t necessarily the era the sound is trapped in so much as how the song continues to translate and transcend those trappings as the years go proceed. To put it another way: is your song a product of your era or one of the pillars that helped define it?
To that end, I Wish You Love: More From the Bodyguard focuses on the same things that everyone focused on with the original soundtrack: the Houston recordings. Bear in mind: Houston only did six songs on the film, leaving the rest of the set padded out by the likes of Joe Cocker and Kenny G. Thus, I Wish You Love isn’t out to rewrite any history here so much as it exists to give Houston completists what they want, uncovering alternate mixes, live renditions, and other ephemera as it ties in to the film.
With Houston only taking up half of the original soundtrack, how much is there to explore when three of the six Houston contributions are covers? Clearly, for a 14-track compilation of this nature, there is going to be filler, and most of it comes down to swapping out versions of songs recorded for the soundtrack to the versions used in the film proper. Thus, the differences are negligible at best. There’s the “Alternate Mix” of “I Will Always Love You” opening the set — that’s to be expected — but its main feature is the spoken word intro as featured in the movie. From there, we get into the “Film Versions” of each of Houston’s songs, including an “A Cappella Version” of “Jesus Loves Me”. Outside of a few extended moments that were cut for time and consistency on The Bodyguard, the revelations to be found here are few and far between, with that “A Capella Version” of “Jesus Loves Me” simply being the same rendition we heard on the original soundtrack but without the instrumentation.
Thus, outside of a serviceable “livillés & Cole House Mix” version of Houston’s sturdy Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman”, the real takeaway here are the cuts from the world tour she did in support of the album from 1993-1995. The cuts were handpicked from dates all over the world, but the true catch is Houston’s rarely-heard live performance of “Run to You”. Despite being one of the most heralded songs from The Bodyguard (but its lowest-charting single behind the Tina Turner-esque rock of “Queen of the Night”), “Run to You” was never in the setlist for this particular tour, and only brought it out on certain dates, almost as if by a whim. Her rendition here mimics the soundtrack version closely, but all the cuts here — even “I Will Always Love You” (in its third and final iteration on this set) — sounds just as thrilling live as it does in the studio renditions. Her traditional show-closer, “I’m Every Woman”, goes on a bit too long here (and so does the audience sing-along portion of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”), but the rest of the live material certainly makes up for it.
Since her tragic 2012 passing, fans looking to show their appreciation for Houston have had conflicting options. Her 2000 hits compilation Whitney: The Greatest Hits mixed original ballads with nothing but remixed versions of her uptempo cuts, leaving fans looking for the original versions across all her studio albums. It wasn’t until 2012’s posthumous collection I Will Always Love You: The Best of Whitney Houston that all of Houston’s hits in their original iterations could be gathered in one place — and even then, that’s only if you get the double-disc version. Many may pick up I Wish You Love thinking this is another great entry into Houston hitdom, but this truly is something for the most devout of Houston acolytes. For them, it’s a field day. For everyone else, it’s a passable curiosity, but a testament to no matter how you sliced and diced Houston’s recordings from this era, she always, always gave it her all.