Flying Colors

 

Oh, Flying Colors, you got me.  How you did it shouldn’t be a mystery, and yet it was a surprise to me, as I was fixed in a wary crouch, prepared for flight at the first sign of blasé songwriting or preachy lyrics.  But you approached patiently, slowly luring me in with all sorts of little sonic treats, and the next thing I knew I was tamed, housebroken, and gladly accepting aural scratches behind the ears.   [“Who’s a good boy?  That’s right, Grez is a good boy!”]

It would so easy to just consider you to be another of Mike Portnoy’s many new projects, but you really are so much more.  You’re a true supergroup across the board, featuring not only the mighty Mike (Dream Theater/Avenged Sevenfold/Adrenaline Mob) on drums, but the stellar Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs/Steve Morse Band/Deep Purple) on guitar, Dave Larue (Dixie Dregs/Steve Morse Band/studio and touring work for everyone) on bass, Neil Morse (Spock’s Beard/Transatlantic/solo, no relation to Steve) on keys & backing vocals, and Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev/Endochine) on lead vocals and rhythm guitar.  When I first heard about you, I did a little happy dance in my house – call it a jig – and I’m still doing it now.

All of these parts shouldn’t fit, but they somehow come together in a mesmerizing way, like the parts of an Escher painting.  You’re rock.  You’re pop.  You’re prog.  You’re metal.  You’re a songwriter’s vehicle.  You’re snob music.  You’re accessible.  Categorizing you would be a sin, and thus I will not attempt it; there is no reason to sully the freedom of this group.

I have to admit I had many fears about what you would give to my lyrically.  After all, Neil Morse left Spock’s Beard to go be a Christian pop/rock artist, and I was afraid that your project would go the route of becoming zealous and holier-than-thou (a la what Kerry Livgren did to Kansas for a short while).  There are certainly some vague references that you’ve made that conjure up images of the afterlife or hopeful spirituality; but, you’ve done such an elegant job of making these bits non-faith-specific that they really are universal instead of evangelical.  The metaphors are wonderful and never insulting.  Thank you.

You’ve given me so much more than what I expected here.  Sure, Blue Ocean and Infinite Fire are the kind of proggy tunes that I expected from this outfit, but despite their duration and complexity, they’re still so incredibly within the grasp of the average listener that their epic length is practically unnoticeable.   But then you surprised me with the hard rock of Shoulda Coulda Woulda and the near-metal of All Falls Down and almost shocked the pants off of me – you didn’t back off of these to make radio talking heads happy or keep from disturbing Mom with the noise in the house.  Kayla and Love Is What I’m Waiting For might be two of the best pop-rock songs I’ve heard in the past five or six years…I can’t stop walking around and singing these songs, and I usually don’t even go for most pop music.  You hit me with the heart-tugging one-two punch of Everything Changes and Better Than Walking Away, showing the depth of songwriting you’re capable of, how great the full vocal harmony of this band can sound, and showing off Steve Morse’s amazing melodic soloing skills.  The Beatles are even given a style nod during your brilliant key-driven bridge in the former of these two songs, along with pretty much the entirety of Fool In My Heart, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Mike Portnoy, thank you for playing what are probably the best drums parts of your life.  Oh, they’re not the most difficult, but they’re the best.  They’re in-your-face on All Falls Down, but understated and approached with a sense of the kit being a part of the delivery of the song almost everywhere else, and are never just the time-keeping device.  Neil’s keys blend perfectly, step out when called for, and then return to the overall sound seamlessly (rather than overriding the rest of the band as they did on some of the Spock’s Beard stuff).  Dave Larue, you not only lay down rhythm, counterpoint, and syncopated runs, but show us that you are still one of the masters of slap-and-pop bass on Forever In A Daze.  Steve, in Flying Colors you’ve played some of your most identifiable, hummable, and pleasing riffs and melodic runs since the Major Impacts albums you did a few years back.  And Casey, Casey, Casey…man, I like your work in Alpha Rev, especially being from one of the last bastions of original music, Austin, Texas, but your voice and songwriting here…it’s your finest to date.

Flying Colors, you did it.  You became more than the sum of your parts.  You did not turn into Frankenstein’s monster.  You came together in a natural, appealing, original, and wonderful way, and made some of the best music of any of your individual members’ careers.  You gave sonic nods to Kansas, Steely Dan, Queen, Genesis (the good years), The Beatles, Jeff Beck Group, Muse, and even Rush in addition to all of your own individual projects  –  without ever, for one second, trying to become any of them.  You’re a new, unique creature of your own – the first I have seen in a very long time.

Is it too soon to tell you that I love you?  I’m sorry, that just slipped out…you don’t have to answer back.  Just come see me on tour some time…and don’t stop at one album.

Grade: A+

File under: music that should be loved by anyone who isn’t dead inside

 

flying colors band pic 

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