Soaring voice, flying sticks, flying fingers.... Flying Colors. Steve Morse, Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Dave Larue and Casey McPherson get together to take us where rock and roll meets prog, metal, and pop.
Artist: Flying Colors
Label: Music Theories / Mascot Label Group
Time: 11 tracks / 59:35 minutes
Seemingly from out of nowhere, five musicians at the top of their respective games come together to form what could easily be called a super-group, and in nine days turn out a spectacular first album. Steve Morse, Casey McPherson, Neal Morse, Dave Larue and Mike Portnoy unite to become more than the sum of their parts with the self-titled debut, Flying Colors. Featuring the infectiousness of pop without the triteness and cliché, the musicianship and complexities of prog but without the self-indulgence, the power and heaviness of metal but without the excess, Flying Colors brings together five practitioners of the aforementioned genres (if we can stretch enough to consider Casey McPherson as representing pop) to create a musical tapestry that is as catchy and accessible as it is musically stunning.
Frankly, upon first hearing about the project, I had some reservations. Certainly Neal Morse and Portnoy have been prolific in their output lately – even though Steve Morse is legendary and Larue and McPherson are among the best at what they do, would this just be a quick, easy knock-off? The first track, "Blue Ocean," quickly proved me wrong. Starting off with some random-sounding studio patter and a head-bobbing bass run, the elements of the song join together and we get to hear this band – this real band – take off! No loosely put-together jam – this is a stunningly arranged seven minute pop/prog masterpiece. The tight, funky staccato of the opening riff is as hooky as it gets, and the strong vocal and tastefully articulate drums are supported by Beatle-esque back-up vocal harmony and a wash of synths and electric piano. The guitar soloing is so fiery and emotional that it's already into your body and soul before your head realizes how stunning the playing is.
Yeah – it's good.
The same way Steely Dan managed to find rock's proper place in a sophisticated jazz setting, Flying Colors brings together the elements of rock and roll that explored the outer reaches and became prog, found the common denominator and became pop, became more expansive and became fusion, and flexed its muscles and became metal. The result is a surprisingly accessible sound – a logical meeting place where the joy of all the elements that make up our cultural soundtrack come together and let loose the way only masters of their craft can do it.
While most songs on Flying Colors are five minutes or under ("Blue Ocean" is 7:05, "Kayla" is 5:20, "Everything Changes" is 6:55, and the closer, "Infinite Fire," clocks in at 12:02), they will surprise you by veering from anthemic pop to passages of virtuoso funk-driven jams.
To try to describe the playing would be to do it a disservice, and the songs are original enough to defy any worthwhile analysis – although the influences of some bands like Muse or Coldplay might be discerned in certain vocal arrangements, and certainly The Beatles and Queen seem to be mystically in attendance on songs like "Love is What I'm Waiting For." One highlight for me was the slower-paced rock of "Fool in My Heart" - a really pleasant moment, offering an interesting vocal melody (by Portnoy, I believe), a wonderful piano sound, and an intense, bluesy guitar solo from Steve. Much can be said about interesting spots from every track, of course. Repeated listenings are definitely called for, although this project did what few can do: it grabbed me before I finished my first listen!
The last track, "Infinite Fire," puts the band in friendly territory: an epic that begins in a Glass Hammer mode, and after four and a-half minutes, gets into some hot jamming, featuring some of the best fusion guitar work I've heard in years, wonderful keyboard playing, strong, melodic bass, and Mike Portnoy's drumming – more articulate and stunning than ever.
I wonder what they would have done if they had ten days.....
- Bert Saraco