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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2001 1 Jan
Sounds like … teen-oriented girl pop along the lines of Britney Spears, Dream, and the Spice Girls to name a fewAt a Glance … Life is a surprisingly good teen pop album, thanks to excellent production and inspriring-yet-honest lyrics. Fans of the genre should rush to pick this one up.

Why beat around the bush? Life is good … surprisingly good.

It's so easy for teen pop to become formulaic and shallow, and even second-rate in the case of some Christian acts. Although ZOEgirl's solo debut album was well received by many (250,000 albums sold to date), it still didn't seem to measure up to mainstream quality songwriting and production. During a year of touring in support of that debut, ZOEgirl took the time to connect with their audiences and listened to their stories. Incredibly, this was enough to galvanize the members of ZOEgirl (Alisa Girard, Kristin Swinford, and Chrissy Conway) to take their music ministry to another level and become more proactive in the song-creation process. On their follow-up release, ZOEgirl wrote or co-wrote every song and participated in the vocal arrangements and the album production. Needless to say, your average teen pop artist doesn't get that involved with the nuts and bolts of songwriting and production. The resulting album for ZOEgirl is impressive, and shows that true artistry and hard work win out over a pre-packaged group that simply sings and looks good.

I don't think teen-oriented groups have comfortably made the transition to Christian music yet. The problem is, how do you transplant a genre that glorifies skimpy outfits, sassy lyrics, and suggestive dance moves to Christian music without changing it altogether? Although Christian teen pop artists can avoid dressing and dancing too provocatively, they still need to maintain a certain swagger and edge to the music and lyrics to connect with their musical audience. A lot of said Christian groups end up sounding too positive and clean, like a younger Point of Grace for kids, and that just isn't going to substitute for what kids enjoy in teen pop.

With Life, ZOEgirl proves you can indeed get aggressive and tough with the lyrics, without sounding forced or sugary sweet. Take their song "Dismissed" as an example. Even the title suggests more attitude than simply avoiding the wrong crowd, and the song boldly takes aim at anyone who would try to steal a young girl's innocence. ZOEgirl's lyrics also become somber and poignant on "Forever 17," which recounts the story of a teenage girl killed by a drunk driver. "Plain" beautifully addresses the issue of poor self-esteem, reminding young women that they're indeed special to God just they way they are.

A lot of Christian teen acts also struggle to sound current and polished. Lots of said groups either end up sounding a little too sugary sweet or second-rate. ZOEgirl gets it right for most all of Life. Their uptempo songs are a well-produced blend of dance beats and tastefully executed pop hooks. Songs such as "With All My Heart" and "Even If" will make you want to get up and move to the slick rhythm-and-blues dance grooves with lyrics that declare ZOEgirl's unwavering faith in Christ. Some purists will surely balk at it, but I think "R U Sure About That?" is irresistible with its mix of electronic pop and a Spanish guitar version of Beethoven's "Für Elise" as the musical hook. The Baroque-styled bridge of the song is also a lot of fun.

Many Christian teen groups also end up sounding unfocused, trying dance pop on one track but shifting to adult contemporary diva pop on the next. ZOEgirl remembers their genre and their audience, and consequently their ballads never sound out of place. Both "Forever 17" and "The Truth" easily could have been written as bland Christian pop with a string orchestra and a big vocal finish. But thankfully they remain beautifully ambient and ethereal, which keeps them in the spirit of the rest of the album.

Of course, like all teen-oriented music, it's important to note that it is indeed aimed at a younger audience. It would be easy to criticize Life for its lyrical simplicity and sugary melodies, but I can't criticize the sound for being what it's designed to be. This genre is about catchy melodies, hook-filled production, and danceable beats. ZOEgirl offers all that and more, with the positive message of the Gospel to top it all off. Life may well be the best Christian teen pop album released to date.