Time will tell if Whitney Houston was working on another album when she died unexpectedly in February.
In the meantime, the soundtrack for “Sparkle,” which features Houston in a supporting role as the mother of the title character, is the first new music we’ve heard from Houston since her passing.
By no means is it a noteworthy glimpse into her final recordings. In fact, Houston is heard only on two tracks, both of which speak to her strengths as an interpreter and a dance diva.
“His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” a gospel hymn immortalized by everyone from Ethel Waters to Mahalia Jackson, takes Houston back to her roots in the church. It’s an understated performance. Her voice — a bit huskier than we might have remembered but still steady and reverent — beautifully frames the song’s sanctimonious message.
Meanwhile, “Celebrate” conjures the same sass and uplift of a previous Houston hit, “It’s Not Right but It’s Okay.” She’s joined by Jordin Sparks, the “American Idol” winner who made her acting debut as the film’s star.
The rest of the soundtrack is disposable. These songs might work well in the film, but on their own they land squarely in the bin of light R&B. Even with Cee Lo Green game for the horn-stoked “I’m a Man,” it’s a flimsy excuse for modern soul.
If anything, the soundtrack is more of a showcase for Sparks. Her three solo songs suggest she saw Houston as more than just a costar in the film. She obviously followed Houston’s example and made the most of the material. Just because the songs are lukewarm doesn’t mean the performances have to be, too.