Whitney enlists the help of Alicia Keys, Akon, R. Kelly and others to create her first album in seven years, a collection of moderate throwbacks that is a perfect reminder of why we all loved her in the first place, even if her ballads do occasionally get a little corny.

It's hard to tell what to make of Whitney Houston's first record in seven years. Will we get the glamour girl who burst onto the scene in the 1980s, or the hot mess who married Bobby Brown, spawned a million late-night TV jokes and gave us the immortal quote, "Crack is wack"?

The faux-disco opener, "Million Dollar Bill," suggests the former. Record exec Clive Davis has said that "I Look to You" is not aiming to fit Houston into the current music scene, but rather to remain true to her artistic history ... which sounds a little suspect when you look at the producer/writer list and see R. Kelly, Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys and Akon.

But the album's moderate throwback vibe confirms Davis' statement. "Call You Tonight" uses a modern drum loop but works in a synthesized pedal-steel that gives the song a unique quality. The Akon-assisted "Like I Never Left" is vintage '80s, with bubbling world percussion in the background, and "For the Lovers" is reminiscent of the heyday of late-'90s R&B, when Whitney was making the painful transition from diva to tabloid obsession.

But she's not dwelling on her past. "I ain't blamin' nobody/I done got my stuff worked out/I got a lot for myself/Ain't gonna regret anything I've done/I just want to sing my song/Ain't got nothin' but love," Houston sings on the Danja-produced "Nothin' But Love."

It's a graceful return to form for Houston, and even if some of the album's ballads go a little heavy on the syrup, heck, they're still being sung by one of America's greatest R&B divas.

Hear samples from "I Look to You" at Amazon.com. Houston will appear on Oprah on Sept. 14.

Sussex Countian