Hello, and welcome to 1989! Whitney Houston has a new inspirational ballad, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” in which first-verse downers such as “lost touch with my soul,” “lost sight of my dream,” and “I had no hope to hold onto” get quickly cured with Diane Warren‘s lyrical Paxil.

Yes, folks, our troubled diva survived her darkest hour, held her head up high, and even found the light to light her way out of the dark(!). All to the accompaniment of gooey strings, a gentle piano line, and a melody that’s about as easy to latch onto as a soapy, wriggling baby in a bathtub.

And yet…there’s something undeniably appealing about hearing Houston’s voice paired with new material, especially because unlike some of her more bombastic ballads of yore, this performance somehow feels more restrained, more intimate, and more heartfelt.

Is there still a touch of Being Bobby Brown‘s wild-eyed protagonist when she sing-speaks the chorus? Sure. But at this point in her career, it’s no use for Houston to pretend she’s the same wide-eyed chanteuse who burst onto the scene back in 1985 with “You Give Good Love.” By dialing back on the vocal acrobatics, and allowing the gravely little imperfections in her voice to come to the forefront, Houston allows us to get past the lyrical hokum and find something to get, well, inspired by — especially on repeated listens.

Would this leaked track have the potential to be a massive pop/R&B hit if it was selected as the first single from Houston’s fall CD release? (Thus far, Houston’s label has yet to announce which track will lead off the project.) I’d say “My Own Strength” would face an uphill battle at radio, seeing how it’s more “Greatest Love of All” than “Birthday Sex” — yes, that is the title of this week’s No. 8 track on Billboard’s top 100; and yes, I am turning into an ancient and uptight beast — but then again, maybe I’m not the only one who thought pop radio was better 20 years ago than it is today.

What do you think of “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength”? Are you digging it, or is it just too old-fashioned? And what do you make of its chart prospects in a “Boom Boom Pow” world?

UPDATE: Nearly as fast as song is posted by various fans on YouTube, it is being removed by Houston’s label; you may have to search online for updated streams.

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