Dubbed the “Britney alternative” after their debut in 2000, ZOEgirl filled a hole in Christian music by bringing positive music to teens and preteens — a clear antidote to the self-focused and worldly music of mainstream teen-pop. Three-years later, while Britney Spears has de-evolved into a Madonna sound-a-like with her latest release of sparse techno beats, ZOEgirl shows an expanding musical maturity in this latest CD, Different Kind of FREE.

On this fourth outing for Alisa Girard, Kristin Swinford and Chrissy Conway, the girls trade in the produced rhythms of their past for a fresh guitar-driven sound. “Beautiful Name” opens the album with atmospheric U2-like guitars, but quickly cranks the volume with an energy that perfectly complements the song’s passionate pledge of commitment: “I will run / I will fly / And for my faith I’ll live and die.” Later, “Contagious” combines the echoing guitar chords of the Flock of Seagull’s “I Ran” with a “sha-na-na” chorus reminiscent of David Meece’s “Man with The Nail Scars.” Like the majority of the album, this strange combination of pop and rock works.

What frequently doesn’t work with this new sound are ZOEgirl’s tight, three-part harmonies. Tracks such as “Love Me for Me” sound like a rocked-up Wilson Phillips tune. Though individually, each of the three women are able to match the energy and passion of the music, together their voices lack the rock ‘n’ roll grit needed to sound sincere.

Girard, Swinford and Conway all take an active part writing the lyrics to their songs (pop the CD into a computer and you can connect to a secret Web site with photos of the girl’s original hand-written lyric sheets). With topics from self-esteem and suicide to teen-pregnancy, ZOEgirl continues to reach out to teens through lyrics that are thoughtful, honest and refreshingly deep.

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“We believe that our role is to be honest,” says Swinford. “It’s letting people know that we’re not perfect …and desire to be stronger, and to follow God more.”

Though the heart for the audience remains the same, this new project is truly a different kind of ZOEgirl. If you have been turned off by the teen-pop past of ZOEgirl, Different Kind of FREE may change your mind about this girl group. If you’re already a ZOEgirl fan, you will have to grow with their musical sound.

Copyright © 2004 Christian Music Planet, used with permission.

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