The greatest hits compilation is no longer a necessity for those who may only be casual fans of a particular artist. After all, a la carte purchasing options and the ability to stream an artist’s entire catalog means that you can create your own playlist based on what you feel would be a definitively representative “best of.” For those that (back in the day) would inevitably buy an artist’s greatest hits album for the 2 or 3 “new” songs, well, technology has helped you out in that regard, too.
Two of the more high-profile greatest hits albums to come out recently have come from Kelly Clarkson and Whitney Houston. Both serve a purpose of some sort. Clarkson’s Greatest Hits-Chapter One collects all of the radio smashes from the inaugural “American Idol” winner, who has turned into one of the past decade’s most dependable singles artists. Meanwhile, Whitney’s I Will Always Love You-The Best of Whitney Houston is the first ever compilation to contain most of her major hits in their original versions. A previous compilation, 2000’s Whitney: The Greatest Hits, substituted (then) contemporary remixes of uptempo tracks like “How Will I Know” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” in place of the classic iterations of the songs.
A Kelly Clarkson greatest hits album is damn near a necessity for anyone with almost a passing interest in modern pop music. She’s possessed of a serious set of pipes, and her material has been surprisingly versatile. From the Benatar-esque “Never Again” to hit singles co-written by Christina Aguilera (“Miss Independent”) and Avril Lavigne (“Breakaway,”) Clarkson has released an almost non-stop collection of earworms, and that’s to say nothing of the earwormiest earworm at all-“Since U Been Gone.” Her career-making Grammy-winning smash rightfully leads off this collection. No major hits are missing, and the three new songs range from decent to pretty damn good. “Catch My Breath” and “People Like Us” are solid dance-pop in the vein of her recent hit “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” and the dreamy Vince Gill collaboration with Vince Gill, “Don’t Rush,” takes me back to the early ’90s days of country/pop band Restless Heart’s reign atop the adult contemporary charts with songs like “When She Cries” and “Tell Me What You Dream.” This is not a dis at all-I love those songs, and I love this one. Kelly’s had a pinky toe in the country realm for quite some time, and I wouldn’t be made if she made an album full of songs like “Rush.”
While there are a couple of third-tier hits missing from Greatest Hits-Chapter One (“Low,” “The Trouble With Love Is,” and the fantastic “Sober,”) it’s one of the stronger compilations released recently, and it honestly renders the studio albums in Clarkson’s catalog unnecessary. This is almost all the Kelly you need.
The Whitney compilation, on the other hand, feels incredibly incomplete. It ignores the last decade and a half of Whitney’s career, and while those years were certainly not the best from a personal level (or a commercial success level,) I’d argue that they contain her most meaningful and soulful material. For the very casual Whitney fan, this is perfect-Always contains each of Whitney’s #1 pop singles-from “Saving All My Love For You” to “Exhale (Shoop Shoop.)” However, pretty much of her more R&B-leaning material is forgotten about. “Heartbreak Hotel” (which was a #2 pop hit!) isn’t here, nor is the anthemic “It’s Not Right But It’s OK.” Artists like Whitney, however, have a better musical story to tell than the #1 hits (some of which-like “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” and “All The Man That I Need”-are fucking awful) may indicate. This compilation more or less reduces her to a more soulful Celine Dion-which is not the way most diehards see (or hear) Whitney at all. The fact that even the album artwork and booklet info is basic and subpar is surprising. Whitney’s legacy deserves a lot more than a half-ass greatest hits compilation rushed out to take advantage of 4th quarter shopping. I’m sure Whitney’s label and estate will get it right at some point-but I Will Always Love You definitely ain’t it.
Grades; Clarkson: A, Houston: C