Review by Peter Coates
The second album from progressive rock “supergroup / side-project” Flying Colors is released in Australia on October 3rd 2014 and perpetuates the initial basis for the band, formed in 2012, of seeking to combine virtuoso progressive rock musicians with a melodic pop singer / songwriter, and see what happens.
The musicians are all enormously experienced and influential heavyweights from the modern and progressive rock world, featuring Steve Morse (Deep Purple / Kansas / Dixie Dregs) on guitars, Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard / Transatlantic) on keyboards, Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater / Transatlantic / Adrenaline Mob / Winery Dogs) on drums, and Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs / Satriani / Vai) on bass – with Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev) providing the songwriting and vocals.
The band toured the US and Europe in 2012 on the back of the initial release (“Flying Colors”), and recorded a live album and DVD at a show in Holland on that tour (“Live in Europe”).
Given the range of influences in the band, variety is assured, and while it may be brave opening a record with a 12 ½ minute epic, “Open Up Your Eyes” sets the scene for the rest of the 65 minutes of quality melodic prog rock. Shades of Colosseum II, the jazz rock fusion band that featured Gary Moore before he joined Thin Lizzy, and featuring all members of the band, this has flashes of early Rush as well before it breaks into a drum-driven rhythmic adventure that betrays the roots of this band.
“Mask Machine” provides a pounding riff and a powerful keyboard melody, with some trademark Portnoy drums, with the vocals bringing a Muse feel to the song, which continues through the guitar solo.
“Bombs Away” kicks off with an offbeat guitar riff reminiscent of the Scorpions “Is there Anybody There”, and mixes it with some stunning choral harmony vocals. The middle-eight is just outstanding before it breaks into a pure Kansas organ / guitar section prior to revisiting the original riff through to the close.
“The Fury of my Love” starts out as very mellow ballad, and remains predictable and melodic with some pleasing vocals and a beautiful solo from S Morse.
“A Place in Your World” could be an unreleased track from an early Kansas record, with the characteristic interplay of Hammond organ and lead guitar and the multi-layered vocals through the verses, and a dramatic chorus, driven by a rolling bass line that powers through the remainder of the track.
Shortest track on the album is “Lost Without You”, and features a strong vocal performance from McPherson, and proves hard to categorise as rock, country or pop.
“One Love Forever” starts out melodious over a rolling, vaguely oriental riff and some precise off-beat drumming, before dropping into a straight 4/4 time chorus. A tribal undercurrent of drums and percussion under the vocals before more great guitar / keys interplay, much like the Dixie Dregs and Kansas influences.
Haunting ethereal vocals lead into “Peaceful Harbor” which has a Celtic ballad feel to it, highlighted by a pure clean guitar solo that leads the build-up of the song before it reverts to the sparse vocals just before the massive extended climax of guitars, choirs, and wailing vocals that give a nod to Dark Side of the Moon.
Another 12 minute opus closes the record, in true Prog form, split into three ‘chapters’ and with the title “Cosmic Symphony”. This is another melodic and expressive creation, but fails to deliver any real punch or surprises throughout.
It is hard not to keep trying to find comparisons throughout the record, and this may be unfair to Flying Colors in that it ignores what they are trying to do as a band, rather than a side-project – but there is no shame in celebrating the musical influences from the various backgrounds of the players, and there is great skill displayed in blending these influences into songs, not just disjointed virtuoso pieces.
The musicianship is perfectly executed throughout the album – however the lyrics are generally bland, and while they avoid the pitfalls of some progressive bands, they add very little to the songs – the melody and expressiveness of the vocals, and the complex harmonies is what stands out. If there is one thing missing……it is the lack of the jaw-dropping drumming which I have always admired from Portnoy – but “Flying Colors” is a different beast.