Apart from the fact that 2004’s ‘Leave (Get Out)’ is a stone-cold classic, I knew very little about JoJo or her music prior to my first listen of Mad Love. I wasn’t even aware that she was still in the music business: I’d lumped her with contemporaries like Vanessa Carlton – whose ‘A Thousand Miles’ is another mid-noughties anthem – in the memorable one-hit-wonder category of my music library. Nostalgic moments aside, JoJo remained mostly un-played, and relatively forgotten.
Or, at least, until the former teen star dropped Mad Love, her clarion call of a return, after twelve long years of sub-par releases since her definitive debut single. A bolder collection of songs than her previous offerings, the album takes a while to settle, with first track ‘Music.’ something of a non-entity; the keys at the song’s may start to tug at listeners’ sentimentality towards ‘Leave (Get Out)’, but the opening ballad, concerning her late father, is otherwise dull. JoJo’s voice is reassuringly strong, however: she can really hit those notes when she wants to. Followers ‘I Can Only’ (featuring Canadian songstress Alessia Cara, whose voice is magical) and ‘F*** Apologies. (feat Wiz Khalifa)’ are much stronger, and the album hits its stride on the sweet soul-pop of the titular track.
To compare her to Ariana Grande feels relatively generous – Grande’s breath-taking vocal range has very few competitors – but Mad Love has echoes of Grande’s most recent, and best, album Dangerous Love in its composition and image. Though JoJo’s release is nowhere near as brilliant, sultry, well-produced, or musically diverse as Dangerous Woman, both albums serve as bold statements of child stars maturing into women, embracing their sexuality, and making some solid-gold hits. ‘Vibe.’, ‘Honest.’ and ‘Like This.’ are probably JoJo’s boldest demonstrations of her musical and personal development so far, and are perhaps the most Grande-like, chart-friendly songs on the album.
By the album’s three-quarter mark, though, things begin to drag: whilst it’s not awful, Mad Love could definitely have benefited from some serious cutting. Too many songs sound overly similar; a greater variation in style – especially more of the soul influences found on ‘Mad Love’ – are desperately needed. ‘High Heels’ is a poor woman’s version of Beyonce’s ‘6 Inch’; ‘I Am.’ contains a relatively good vocal performance, but is somewhat whiny; ‘Clovers.’ is one of the better offerings, but its chorus lets it down. ‘Good Thing.’ starts promisingly but never really develops, and closer ‘Rise Up.’ – upbeat and featuring a great, if not slightly cliché, turn from a backing choir – should definitely have featured nearer the album’s start. Mad Love is proof that restraint is key: the old adage “quality over quantity” proves extremely true at the album’s end.
In a year dominated by some amazingly strong albums, too – Lemonade, Dangerous Woman and Britney’s Glory being the standouts – Mad Love doesn’t quite meet the musical variation and frankly incredible production values set by some of 2016’s more revolutionary pop albums. Whilst it’s in no way a total flop, Mad Love contains too many bland tracks and too few real hits.
After years of going relatively unknown, it’s a stronger return than could have been expected, but JoJo needs to create something truly unique if she wants to stand up against the best that pop’s iconic, independent women have to offer.
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