Back in 2006, on the eve of releasing her second album, then-15-year-old JoJo vowed to put out her next one after she turned 18. “I want there to be growth,” the singer explained that year. “I want to live and experience things … That’s important.” She might have come to regret those words—she’d spend much of the next 10 years locked in a legal battle with her former record label—but JoJo’s instincts were right on. Her well-documented struggles and triumphs inform her long-awaited third LP, Mad Love., and they turn her tales of love, friendship, and family into one bold coming-of-age statement. (Literally: Every song title is punctuated with a period.)
When it comes to the music, however, JoJo’s collection of soulful slow jams and dark, contemporary R&B head-bobbers is uneven. The latter category has more misses (the generic “Vibe.”) than hits (the flawless first single, “F— Apologies.”), but the stirring piano ballads that bookend the standard edition more than make up for that—just try not to get choked up as JoJo sings about her late father on “Music.” or belts about her self-worth on “I Am.” Songs like those demonstrate why JoJo has a long career ahead of her: Industry horror story aside, she’s one of her generation’s finest vocalists. Period.