After ten years of incredibly extensive lawsuits, legal woes with record labels, and battling to release any music she possibly could, the once-almighty pop sensation JoJo is back with her third studio album, Mad Love.
Mad Love. highlights a decade worth of hardships for the singer, ranging from her professional difficulties with her former label and distribution dealers (Da Family Records and Blackground Records) to her personal struggles with the passing of her father in November of 2015. Along with those personal inclusions comes a series of blazing urban-pop tracks that make even the most seasoned mainstream artist’s album seem like an amateur release. JoJo successfully connects the trends of 2016 to her own sound and style, culminating in the most cohesive pop album of the year.
Bookended with two songs highlighting those aforementioned struggles, a couple of Mad Love.’s strongest points come at its purest of moments—“Music.,” the album’s opener, and “Rise Up.,” its closer. (Side-note, but it should also be recognized that all of the album’s songs, along with its own name, is stylized with a “.” at the end of each title.) “Music.” is a poignant piano ballad that strings the stories of how music helped her through those hardships from ten years ago all the way up to her current-day triumphs, polished with emotion as raw as you’d find on the most recent Adele or Bon Iver albums, but with vocals that could lay both of those two artists to rest if a battle were to break out. (I’m also going to be pitching this idea to primetime television networks: “Vocal Battle Royale Between Adele, Bon Iver, and JoJo.” What’s one more singing show added to the current climate of TV anyway?)
The title track shifts the album’s gears from a string of inevitable pop smashes to a stellar jazz-infused hit. “Mad Love.” is reminiscent of a lovechild between an Etta James standard and a Beyoncé power ballad. It really, truly could be the defining hit of this entire era for her, should it receive the light of day with a radio release.
Several of JoJo’s sweetest spots on the record come towards the end (using the deluxe version of the album as justification), most specifically on “Good Thing.” and “High Heels.,” the latter of which is an absolute rapture of a song. The track is stuffed with classic 2002-era Christina Aguilera vocals but better. Finished with the filthiest backing vocals and a consistent slamming beat, “High Heels.” is one of, if not, the highlight of the album. Complete and utter fire.
Very rarely does an artist ever release an album with virtually zero throw-away tracks—those are, tracks that are skippable, feel like they hold little weight, or are just out of place on the album. Mad Love. has incredible continuity. There’s never a bump in the road while listening all the way through; it’s fluid, constructed phenomenally, and carries its own weight with ease. And, while each song has its own face and value, the album as a whole has a very distinct, modern, pop-urban sound. On this album, everything just works. It’s an incredibly well-oiled machine.
While the album’s lead single, “F*** Apologies” (feat. Wiz Khalifa), is great, it’s not even close to being the best song on the album. Aside from “High Heels.,” “Music.,” and the title track, other standout tracks include “I Can Only.” (feat. Alessia Cara), “Vibe.,” and the album’s closing track, “Rise Up.,” an empowerment anthem detailing JoJo’s strength and determination to get to where she’s now at today, along with looking back at what she needed to endure along the way. “I Can Only.” has radio potential written all over it, as it includes one of 2015’s biggest breakout stars, Alessia Cara. The combination of the two vocalists couldn’t have been a better match made in heaven, as Cara’s more guttural and quirky stylistics meshed perfectly with JoJo’s booming chest belt.
Mad Love. is a milestone release. It’s not only one of 2016’s best pop records (I could never, and would never, discount Carly Rae Jepsen’s phenomenal E•MO•TION: B-Sides), but it’s the record that I, along with so, so many others, have been waiting to receive from JoJo after a ten-year waiting period. I get it: business sucks. Working in such a technical landscape takes time and attention, and if something isn’t working in a professional relationship, ties should be severed. For JoJo, though, it was the extensiveness and the tightness of her old recording contract that made the whole process damn-near poisonous for her career.
It’s been ten years since her second record, The High Road, was released, which included that massive, iconic hit single, “Too Little Too Late.” Thank everything and everyone that it wasn’t too little, too late for JoJo to return to the music scene. It could’ve been easy for her to fade into obscurity; for most artists, binding recording contracts end up being detrimental to their careers. Somehow, some way, though, she built the stamina and courage to fight through ten years of lawsuits, from ages 14 to 24. She’s now come out on the other side of the drama with a fresher and more mature sound, a (presumed) healthier recording contract, and an outstanding record. Mad Love. is worth your time. Buy it. Stream it. Don’t illegally download it.
Thanks for fighting, JoJo, and welcome back. Missed you, girl.
Listen to it here: iTunes | Spotify | Amazon Music
CRAIG JAFFE | JoJo better win a GRAMMY for this. | KXSU Editor