It’s some 16 years since JoJo lit up the R&B pop scene with her massive hit Leave (Get Out) and her promising debut album was released when she was just 13 years old. Although she was creating music and signed to Blackground Records, issues with the label and distributors ensued and this meant her songs were not being released perplexing her and her fans.
After much legal wrangling, JoJo gained back control after being released from her recording contract and signing with Atlantic who released her third album Mad Love. She then signed a deal with Warner, creating a joint venture Clover Records, and gained back control of her work by recreating her first two albums, releasing these in 2018 to much delight.
Her new album good to know is described as being a three-parter, from self-destructive behaviour tropes, to isolation and realisation, and then acceptance. The album’s opener So Bad begins innocently enough, but then builds into a dark and thumping lick dealing with a late-night undercover lover who is essentially no good, reminiscent of Alanis Morissette‘s You Oughta Know. Pedialyte is a curious title for a song, essentially a brand of rehydration drink, but this fits the narrative of getting wasted and staying up until 5am, and features what sound like bottles clanging out of tune in the background. It builds into an inspired and more nefarious version of Aaliyah‘s Try Again, yet perhaps fitting lyrically of a more lamentable Kesha. Gold completes the first part of the album. Sonically, this is a slick and swinging mid-tempo R&B ballad, but you still get the sense our protagonist is unfulfilled and insecure.
There is a clever little nod to Leave (Get Out) as Man starts, but the faded drums and guitar strumming then weave into an R&B pop slap, as JoJo sets the bar high for future partners. Her voice is in fine, strident and confident form. Lonely Hearts is a sultry and shimmering lament to a relationship that’s turned one-sided, while Small Things is a beautiful acoustic slice of bittersweet balladry heralding coming out the other side of a break-up. There are some wonderful vocal harmonies here, more than reminiscent of Mariah Carey at her best.
Things turn rather flagrant on the latter part of the album. Think About You is a light and breezy piano-driven slice about trying move on when friends tell you just to fuck someone new. Comeback, featuring Tory Lanez and 30 Roc, is a raw, red-light special with some dubious and cocky self-aggrandising in the rap. The album closes with Don’t Talk Me Down. A highlight, it features some of her most tender vocals that cascade and crescendo beautifully and effortlessly in this ivory-led, string-laden and stripped back anthem which both pleads for mercy and demands respect.
It’s irrefutable that JoJo has matured both musically and vocally, and some of the raw lyrics here will sledgehammer that point home, even if they detract from the material a little. The underlying message here appears to be one of self-acceptance being possible through the unravelling of toxic relationships. Some brilliant sonic touches coupled with canny and self-assured slams add up to a sound and credible return.