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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Different Kind of Free

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Sep
  • COMMENTS
Different Kind of Free
Sounds like … what production team The Matrix is concocting these days—that accessible rock-tailored pop sound that's just so hot on Top 40 radio right now, exemplified in the likes of Avril Lavigne, Lillix, and Hilary DuffAt a glance … with Christian music's last hope for well-crafted dance-pop gone, we'll just have to get used to ZOEgirl's newfound instrument-driven sound.

ZOEgirl is definitely up to something. They were spotted opening for Newsboys early this year along with Superchic[k] and By The Tree on the Thrive Tour; they released an aggressive rock rendition of "I Believe" on their Mix of Life remix album; they've gradually moved away from using choreographed dance routines; they've dropped the matching outfits; and, as if that weren't enough, their label gave Tedd T. permission to mash up their hit "Dismissed" with dc Talk's grunge-leaning classic "Jesus Freak," to surprising results. Was this an omen for what was to come for the vocal trio?

In keeping with the changing times and musical trends—and this time moving right along with mainstream music, not two years later—ZOEgirl defies expectations with Different Kind of Free, their third official full-length release and their first foray into a more mature, rock-infused sound. Gone are the days of the dated bubblegum pop of their synthesized debut, or even the slicker R&B-infused dance-pop of Life. As a matter of fact, the latter was tight and refined on so many levels, that I was expecting its successor to pick up where it left off. Instead, Different abruptly opts for an accessible, guitar-driven sound, while maintaining a similarly strong focus on issues teens face on a day-to-day basis, such as suicide, self-esteem, rejection in the church, etc.

While the girls haven't gone metal on us, the new songs do display a harder edge. First, the multi-format single "You Get Me" (co-written by James Katina and Chrissy Conway) is an example of this transition, and the track interestingly moves from a gentle, minor-chorded introductory guitar part to a full-on chorus of electric walls of sound and pounding drums. Add to this the Psalm 139-inspired lyrics about God's intimate knowledge of our lives, and you have a winning sure-to-be-hit for the girl of ZOE. More guitars, drums, and now a turntable form a part of "Inside Out," a fun song that easily recalls that pop/rock sound that production team The Matrix is making popular.

The mid-tempo ballad, "Unbroken," places the girls' airy harmonies over an anthem-type pop foundation to great effect (think Mandy Moore's "I Wanna Be With You"), for a song that tackles the topic of restoration from the perspective of brokenness: "If I was unbroken I'd never know/the beauty of hope and how grace can go/… Tasted bitter, tasted sweet/Embraced the victory and some defeat/… I found the beauty in the place they meet." Even more impressive is the title track; starting as a minus track in-between song #9 and #10 and slowly building up as a one-two combo of muted guitar and syncopated beat, it gives way to a bold declaration about the long-lasting freedom that only Christ can give; this point is driven home even further when rapper Mat Kearny drops in on the bridge and wraps it all up for the girls.

Though ZOEgirl's latest is by no means a perfect album—"Life to Me" is your typical, worshipful show closer, while "Contagious" and "Love Me For Me" could use some lyrical reworking—it still gets a recommendation from me thanks to Alisa, Chrissy, and Kristin's desire to expand upon their sound and to have a hand in crafting lyrics that are impressive and profound, at least for the age group they're trying to reach. It's still unclear how well this "makeover" of sorts will be received, but if it's true that ZOEgirl's fans are growing and that rock-inflected pop is what they're asking for, then the girls have once again struck gold with Different Kind of Free.


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