For all its nods to 2020’s minimal R&B landscape, there’s something endearingly retro about JoJo’s Good To Know. Maybe it’s the album’s lean running time (it clocks in at just under 30 minutes), which is in stark contrast to the sprawling, chart-rigging monoliths being rolled out en masse today. Or perhaps it’s just the fact that Good To Know is more interested in being a cohesive, meaningful body of work than a sprinkling of singles padded out with filler. Which makes JoJo’s 4th LP more of a recalibration than a reinvention.
After all, the 29-year-old has been making intensely personal, contemplative R&B for the best part of a decade. This is just the first time that she has applied the formula to an album instead of a mixtape. Good To Know is further elevated by JoJo’s growth as a vocalist. In much the same way that Mariah Carey purposely dialed it back a notch in the ’90s to focus on agility and delivery, there isn’t an unnecessary note on this album. It’s one thing to be able to sing well, it’s another to make people feel it.
And that’s exactly what JoJo does on Good To Know. This is a collection of songs that cling to your soul. The “Leave (Get Out)” legend revealed that the album has three separate acts comprised of numbing the pain with vices, the dawning realization that change is necessary and, finally, the first (baby) steps towards self-love. It’s quite an arc to pull off over nine songs, but JoJo does it with ease. She straps us in for a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows that hits doubly hard because it rings true.
Good To Know begins with JoJo playing the other woman on “So Bad,” a song that revels in bad decision-making. “I’ll be in the trench coat, back of the bar in the shadows,” she sings on the slinky chorus. “Act like you don’t know me, if they ask you.” Our heroine isn’t above a little manipulation either. “You say you love her, but you need me so bad,” she pleads at one point. It’s unflinchingly honest and raw. A description that also applies to “Pedialyte” — a slow jam that about recovering from a hangover.
Sex and drinking are staples of modern-day R&B, but what sets these tunes apart is the fact that they exist in a moral grey-zone. They’re not particularly apologetic, but there is a whiff of regret in the air. While those tracks showcase self-destructive behavior, “Gold” is a sleek, sexy celebration of the divine feminine. As the album segues into the next phase of self-awareness, the songs cut even deeper. Take the lead single, “Man,” which is the punchiest, pop-adjacent song on Good To Know. This is where JoJo stops settling for less.
The gut-wrenching “Small Things,” which ranks as one of the album’s best tracks, documents the special kind of emotional torture that accompanies a breakup. “Heard your name just as I was heading home the other day,” JoJo sings over a stripped-back, acoustic arrangement. “And I swear, I couldn’t even sit up straight.” The song is also notable for the hitmaker’s virtuoso vocal performance. Ultimately, she learns her lesson and decides to spend some time alone — a revelation that is captured perfectly on the ’90s-inspired “Lonely Hearts.”
Next up is the most bruising track on the album. “Think About You” is about being fixated on someone that you know is toxic. “I been tryin’ to move on and it’s obvious that I can’t,” JoJo sings over Lido’s sparse, midnight-R&B production. “It was my fault we’re broken, but I can’t let go of hoping.” That kind of inertia does have one advantage, however, and that is explosive makeup sex — as captured on the semi-pornographic, wholly-outrageous “Comeback.” Add this to your favorite sexy times playlist now.
Good To Know ends on a positive note with a beautiful ballad called “Don’t Talk Me Down,” which finds JoJo taking responsibility for her actions and taking steps towards change. That magnificent voice is front and center as she demands better for herself. “Opposites attract, but do they last? Light us up and burn out just as fast,” JoJo ponders, before reaching the emotional chorus: “Don’t talk me down, don’t fill my head with doubt.” And with that, R&B’s secret weapon leaves us wanting more. Which is an increasingly rare thing to say about an album in 2020.
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