[5 November 2001]
If reality TV is your preference, you’ll probably remember Dallas-based Flickerstick as the band that overcame three other groups, adversity and near elimination to win VH1’s Band’s on the Run contest earlier this year. Scooping the prize after 16 weeks mercilessly playing and drumming up support for their gigs around the US earned them the reward of a major label recording contract, but in some ways the hard work is only just beginning.
Flickerstick were already making a name for themselves before winning the contest, but the first obstacle for the band will inevitably be criticism that fame has come to them via the easy route, in the same way that it came to teen popsters O-Town after similar exposure on MTV’s Making the Band.
However, when you consider that Epic has merely re-mixed (with two new tracks) the band’s self-financed debut album, then it’s clear that unlike the wholly manufactured O-Town, Flickerstick will stand or fall without much record company remodelling. Major label Flickerstick are hardly different from the indie Flickerstick and whilst this could demonstrate just how much Epic believes in the band, either way the band can’t be accused of not paying its dues.
A further issue is that Bands on the Run primarily focused on Flickerstick’s explosive live show, so Welcoming Home the Astronauts takes the band out of the live environment which they are now most known for, and forces analysis of the material itself, rather than how many t-shirts a band can sell or how many flyers they can distribute during one particular week.
The good news is that on the whole, the album supports Epic’s decision to tinker as little as possible with what Flickerstick already possessed. It is slightly schizophrenic, but the addition of two new tracks, together with Tom Lord-Alge’s guiding hand shaving the excess off some of the songs, improves things over the original.
On songs like the opener “Lift”, Flickerstick appear lyrically unconvincing and a definite disparity exists between the sublime modern pop-rock of “Beautiful” (which is justifiably the first single) and the opaque weirdness of tunes such as “Chloroform the One You Love” and “Direct Line to the Telepathic”. The latter was often the band’s emphatic show-closer on Bands on the Run, but it lacks the visual energy of vocalist Brandlin Lea on record. However, when Flickerstick harness the power of guitarist Rex James Ewing’s crunching riffs into well crafted melodic tunes such as “Coke”, “Talk Show Host” and “I’ve Got a Feeling”, then they really hit the mark.
Ultimately, Flickerstick may well find the line “When you get what you want / then you make it” (from “I’ve Got a Feeling”) to be slightly misguided, as securing a deal is only the start of their journey into the corporate major label world and will demand even more dedication than a gruelling 16 weeks touring for a TV show. However, if the band can build on the support they garnered during that time, then Welcoming Home the Astronauts could provide Flickerstick with the kind of fantasy happy ending that many reality TV shows seem to spurn.