Issue 2012-015: Flying Colors - Flying Colors - Round Table Review
Flying Colors – Flying Colors
Tracklist: Blue Ocean (7:05), Shoulda Coulda Woulda (4:32), Kayla (5:20), The Storm (4:53), Forever In A Daze (3:56), Love Is What I'm Waiting For (3:36), Everything Changes (6:55), Better Than Walking Away (4:57), All Falls Down (3:22), Fool In My Heart (3:48), Infinite Fire (12:02)
Bob Mulvey's Review
When I read the early press notices of yet another prog "supergroup" featuring Mike Portnoy I could hardly contain my excitement. As the band would also include Neal Morse one waited for the announcement of Roine Stolt and Peter Trewavas. But mercifully this was not to be and instead guitarist extraordinaire Steve Morse and his long time friend and bass man Dave LaRue entered the fold. The unknown Casey McPherson would take on the vocal duties. So the burning question for me was - do we really need another "supergroup"? History already suggests to us that such formations seldom achieve the stature of their component parts.
Now if I were to be truthful here my curiosity regarding Flying Colors was only sparked by what Steve Morse and Dave LaRue might bring to the table. So to say I entered this RTR with an open mind is perhaps misleading! But in we go regardless...
Opening track Blue Ocean kicks things off to a good start, with a solid driving Dregs-like bass line from Dave LaRue. Vocalist Casey McPherson shows early in the piece that he is well able to hold his ground within this strong cast. He has an infectious voice and confident delivery, so with a great hookline in the chorus (bearing more than hint of Neal Morse's influence), the track bodes well for the album. Steve Morse supplies the first, of what will be characteristic of the album, great melodic solos. Whereas Shoulda Coulda Woulda is a fairly grinding, thunderous heavy rocker. Portnoy and LaRue make a formidable rhythm section, which I suppose is to be expected. The song itself didn't do an awful lot for me but considering the heaviness of the track the vocals still came over well.
A slight respite comes in the form of Kayla. Bookended by brief classical guitar sections, the track has an almost Muse like feel in the verses, however the soaring vocal line in the chorus takes us into the catchy hook laden territory of American AOR. Styx, Kansas, Toto, Journey et al... Steve M's themed solo capping it all off. The Storm is yet another hook filled track and if there were any misgivings about Casey McPherson, then they're long dispelled. Did I mention that Steve M delivers some really concise and fine solos on this album? Well here's another...
I'm struggling folks. Despite my initial misgivings (even determination) not to enjoy this album, I've yet to hear anything that isn't well written, performed and executed.
Forever In A Daze presents us with some fine interplay again between Mike Portnoy and Dave LaRue. A slightly uncomfortable groove, but still... The guys kick into a nice little rhythmic passage around the 2:30 minute mark. Vocal wise perhaps not the strongest on the album, but it's not that type of song and there is some stiff competition throughout. Despite the rather cheesy title Love Is What I'm Waiting For is an infectious commercial rock/pop track - 10CC, Supertramp and Queen, (Killer Queen), came to mind here and with Steve Morse's very Brian Mayesque solo, the comparison was nailed.
Sorry to all the "nay sayers" - but I'm sold on this album and even if everything from here onwards was dreadful - it is still worth checking out.
The band's love of the Beatles surfaces during Everything Changes, along with the more contemporary flavours of Coldplay and with a big choral ending brings a slight Genesis trick into the tale. Elsewhere Casey McPherson delivers a super vocal on the power ballad, Better Than Walking Away. Whereas All Falls Down demonstrates that should the fancy take them, then the area of progressive metal could be well on the cards. But folks rather than me continuing to repeat myself with words like: strong vocal melodies/hooklines, solid song writing, great rhythm section, Steve Morse' soloing... let me just say it has them all and in abundance.
There is still however one track that perhaps needs special mention and this is of course the closing piece Infinite Fire. THE most proggy track on the album and I'm sure there are many that would have preferred Flying Colors to be more in this vein throughout. First few spins I found it a little at odds with what had gone on before and slightly more in keeping with Transatlantic/Spock's Beard. The first five minutes or so remained in context, however there's a middle progressive jazz/rock work-out that allows both Morses' to let rip. Portnoy also chips in...
Infinite Fire gives us an inkling that should Flying Colors wish to pursue a more progressive avenue then certainly there is no doubt everything is in place. Interesting to see how Infinite Fire pans out live. Personally the diversity shown across the hours worth of material gives the impression that this album is more a "taster". Certainly much of Flying Colors moves in AOR territory and with some pruning there are a couple of "singles" on the album, albeit for an American market. The production is top notch, the musicianship is there in abundance and in Casey McPherson a vocalist capable of fronting such a venture.
I'm going to stick my neck out here and recommend this album, even if Flying Colors doesn't have any overt progressive leanings. Perhaps this is why the album has received such mixed press (continue reading) - although personal expectations may well have contributed to those who have been disappointed. As I had no great expectations to start with, it likely made reviewing this album easier for me. Flying Colors is also a grower and the more I listened, the more I liked. Concluding I'd say - if you're looking for some sort of Transatlantic Dream, Adrenalin Tension or left-over Purple Dregs then barring the last track this may well not be the album for you. If however catchy, crafted melodic rock with more than just a hint of prog captures your fancy, then you could do worse than check this out.
Basil Francis' Review
"The latest prog rock supergroup" is the term I keep hearing to define this outfit, which consists of Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic, Adrenaline Mob), Neal Morse (Spock's Beard, Transatlantic), Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev), Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs), and Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple). A supergroup certainly, but I can't help feeling like they don't really belong to the progressive genre. It pains me that they have chosen the American spelling of 'colours' over the British spelling, but out of the many problems with this album, this is the least of my concerns.
The story behind the music is the classic case of 'real musicians' trying to make 'real music'. As the band themselves put it, they wanted "to make new-fashioned music the old fashioned way". However, I get the feeling that the band simply wanted to jam in a studio, rather than carefully define their direction beforehand. As a result, the first listen to this album had me incredibly confused. Without any sort of direction, this album jumps back and forward between musical ideas without giving them much of a chance to sink into the listener.
Look at the tracklist to this album, just the names and the track lengths, and think about what you see. If you see a collection of pop-rock/AOR tunes with something vaguely epic dropped on the end, then you are exactly right. It's fair to say that the majority of the songs on this album adhere to the age-old verse-chorus structure, displaying the commercial aspect of this disc. On the other hand, with musicians who are legends in their own field, it's not surprising that the dexterity and skill of the performances is extraordinary. Clearly their talents are the unique selling point of this album, and as far as musicianship goes, you definitely get what you pay for.
The compositions, however, are sadly lacklustre in general. I may be too used to the eccentricities of progressive music, but by the seventh or eighth song, I have grown weary of the repetitive verse-chorus structure. Even through the diverse playing styles, there's rather little on this album that I find memorable.
I'm not usually bothered by the lyrics of an album. When you listen to artists such as Yes and Jethro Tull, you learn to turn off the part of your brain that is trying to make sense of them. However, I can't help getting peeved with all the saccharine mush that has been injected into this album. I enjoy even the façade of sophistication, but the general hippy nonsense that pervades each song is far too infantile for me. Lyrics about love and broken hearts are just too clichéd nowadays. In particular, the lyrics of The Storm seem like they have been drawn directly from Transatlantic's last album The Whirlwind, and seem to contain an almost identical 'message'. However, if I choose to overlook the lamentable lyrics and the poor sense of direction, some of the tracks on this album are very decent stand-alone songs. For example, opener Blue Ocean is a cracking opening track with some powerful musical passages and a driving chorus. Kayla also took me by surprise, as the forgettable verses are followed by an unexpectedly good chorus section.
There are however a few stinkers too - take Shoulda Coulda Woulda, for example, which seems to have been played in an attempt to imitate the popular band Muse. For one thing, Muse really isn't my cup of tea, but more importantly it shows a lack of originality. There are also some excruciatingly sappy tracks to go with the sickly sweet lyrics, like Better Than Walking Away and Fool In My Heart.
Although this band don't seem terribly progressive, that hasn't stopped them from having a stab at writing an epic song to pander to the progressive audience. With prog stalwarts Mike Portnoy and Neal Morse at the helm, it shouldn't have been difficult to generate something brilliant and memorable, but I have to report that this track - Infinite Fire - is merely OK. At twelve minutes, it has some good musical themes and a nice funky instrumental, but nothing very clever or innovative. It's just another disappointment at the end of a seriously disappointing album.
It seems to me that this album is being sold on the musicians' names alone, this strategy made clearer by the fact that their names appear in the striking artwork. Fans shouldn't be fooled, as the music here is nothing like Dream Theater, Transatlantic, Deep Purple or indeed any of the bands that the musicians have been in before. Without outlining the many factors that make this a bad album, there are just two really important things that put me off. Firstly, the muddied diversity of this album makes it incredibly hard to digest as a whole. With ballad-like songs alternating with heavier tracks, it's difficult to know what mood the band want you to be in. Secondly, there simply isn't anything clever about this album. Everything is too simple, see-through. There are no clever musical themes, or interesting lyrical ideas, but instead solos and catchy choruses. At no point can I see any use of the brain on this album. The playing comes naturally to these guys, but the songwriting is severely lacking. This is really not an album you want in your collection.
Gert Hulsof's Review
Oh the excitement of anxiously awaiting the debut album of yet another supergroup in the progressive rock world - this time Neal Morse, Steve Morse, Mike Portnoy, Dave LaRue and Casey McPherson would be working together under the banner of Flying Colors. All great musicians in their own right and who are the top notch of today's progressive and rock world artists. Will this be the next best thing to happen in the world of prog rock? The joint forces of such great musicians would urge you to say yes. After ample listening sessions I have come to a conclusion, which may be surprising and may be even controversial. Read on I'll tell you all about my experience with this Flying Colors debut release.
With eleven tracks and just under 60 minutes length comes the debut album by Flying Colors. I for one had expected that the total length would have been nearer to 70, or maybe even the 80 minutes border, as both Neal Morse as well as Mike Portnoy have done nothing different in recent years - solo, as well as in other works. But there again this is not just the work of these two. We can feel lucky that this is the case, although these guys know what they do, and do this well, the musical experience is too recognisable and has a too familiar feel.
Flying Colors can be seen as a combined effort of all involved and all have had their own say and influence on the music. To say however that it is a progressive rock album - I doubt that - I also doubt that the guys wanted to make a progressive rock album as overall the music leans more toward blues rock and/or AOR with some progressive rock influences.
There is however one epic track on the album - at 12:02 minutes long and titled Infinite Fire - yes this epic sure has all the trademarks of progressive rock. It is very well structured and the hand of Neal Morse is strongly present, in fact it has a complete Neal Morse feel even with the way of soloing between the keyboards and guitar. Infinite Fire combines various styles in music, blues, rock, funk, jazz - all are present. With Dave LaRue playing awesome bass lines as well as Steve Morse playing his trademark lines on the guitar, Neal Morse playing some raving keys. And of course Mike Portnoy as an ever mean drummer.
- To kick start the album we hear some studio chit chat before Dave LaRue really kicks off with a walking bass line to get things on the move. The continuation of the track shows what these musicians are good at, or capable of doing. With a huge
Transatlantic feel, but still rhythmically nowhere near what Transatlantic does, the song steadily goes forward and driven by the mean walking bass. If Blue Ocean is how the rest of the album will sound then we are in for a enormous treat. I must say however that the chorus lines are not how I really like to hear them. On the other hand I love the bass line.
- Shoulda Coulda Woulda - well what to say about this? It's a standard hard and heavy rock song - even the title says so. Sure this is great musicians at work still I feel this 'coulda' been a song by the Darkness, thanks to some of the vocals. Heavily rocking but to standard for my liking.
- The start of Kayla the third track on the album was very promising as I felt it was to be a strong melody and Casey's treatment of the vocal lines was to me brilliant. Sadly alas came the chorus breaking the song with a typical love song feel. Too bad to have such a chorus in an otherwise strongly built up song and even the guitar solo by Steve Morse could not make up for this in my opinion.
- The Storm was up next and instantly reminded me of something I had heard all before, and with the chorus it hit me this is Kayla continued just some different musical lines put underneath, I know I am writing t too simple but that is how it feels and comes across to me.
- Forever In A Daze started very promisingly with the distorted guitar followed by a funky bass line and pounding drums. The song has a Steve Morse solo feel - funky, bluesy and maybe even jazzy. Casey does some great vocal lines here. A fantastic solo by Dave LaRue, followed by an even more awesome solo by Steve Morse. Funky all through the song.
- Keyboards kick off the next song - the very Beatlesque song, Love Is What I'm Waiting For. Along with The Beatles influence I also hear some Queen influences, make this song some sort of a unique blend of musical styles from the 60's and 70's and rooted in the pop rock genre.
- Everything Changes is a ballad in the true sense of a ballad, with acoustic guitar to start and a simple back track of drums and bass to keep things moving. With the break around the three minute line an morphing into a typical Neal Morse type ballad. Simply repeating itself after the break and continuing through a long and vast outro, not unlike Neal Morse songs on his solo albums. This song is in my opinion overstretched by at least 2 minutes. Everything Changes - but is it for the good?
- With Better Than Walking Away, Flying Colors goes Journey. A ballad in a typical Journey/American fashion - gradually becoming louder and heavier and climaxing just before the song ends. Not a bad song but neither is it particularly very strong. AOR in an optimum form.
- When All Falls Down is like Should Coulda Woulda - a heavy rocking song with some fast paced drumming and great riffing - but nothing really spectacular. A clean rocking song.
- Fool In My Heart sees Mike Portnoy taking over the microphone, and once again Neal Morse taking the upper hand in the arrangement giving the song a rare blend of Portnoy/Morse sound. Surprise, surprise is that Mike Portnoy a singer - he is not at all bad but still he should leave this to Casey or Neal as they are far better at it. The bluesy solo by Steve Morse completes the feel of this "Neal Morse".
Although Infinite Fire closes the album I mentioned it before the other songs, as for me it carries the album. Forever In A Daze and Blue Ocean are the other two strong songs from the album, but neither are classics of progressive rock. So to conclude, the whole album is a good listen and a solid buy. Do not expect however any musical extravaganzas by the musicians involved.