Flying Colors – Flying Colors

January 01, 1970



Colors is an unlikely progressive rock “supergroup” comprised of
guitarist Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs), keyboardist Neal Morse (Transatlantic,
Spock’s Beard), vocalist Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev), bassist Dave LaRue (Dixie
Dregs), and drummer Mike Portnoy (Transatlantic, Dream Theater). While both
Steve and Neal Morse (no relation) enjoy critically-acclaimed and moderately-successful
solo careers along with strong band associations, the other Flying Colors
members have equally-fruitful gigs as well, Portnoy recently touring with
metalcore band Avenged Sevenfold as well as playing with Neal Morse’s solo
band, LaRue playing with Steve Morse and Joe Satriani, among others.


The one
thing that all these guys have in common is that they all seem to be workaholics,
never standing still for long and always seeking that next interesting musical
collaboration. Because of the impressive, over-achieving nature of the band’s
collective resumes, Flying Colors,
the debut album, has been greatly anticipated by diehard prog-rock fans…who, on
the whole, may be sadly disappointed by the results. While the album features
the virtuoso musical skills of a number of bona fide prog-rock nobility, the
reality here is that Flying Colors is a band of incredible musicians fronted by
a chart-topping pop singer. As a result, Flying
often treads dangerously near art-rock or “pomp” territory
– think Styx or, if you prefer, Saga – rather than re-visiting musical turf
already ground to dust by the members’ other considerable bands.


That’s not
to say that Flying Colors is a bad
album; on the contrary, if the listener sets aside their (unrealistic) expectations,
one may find unexpected joys. The musical chemistry of the disparate band
members is quite amazing, their talents (and egos) meshing into a cohesive unit
that sounds more mature than it actually is in spite of (or maybe because of)
the various players’ previous relationships. The album was written and recorded
entirely over the span of a mere nine days – another logic-defying feat in a
hit-seeking, technology-driven industry that often takes two weeks just to get
a single song on tape. While a few of the songs here may display a few frayed
edges and a handful of awkwardly fey moments, overall the performances are
self-assured, the band’s intricate compositions matched with unparalleled
musicianship of the sort that Pro Tools software could never replicate.


album-opening “Blue
Ocean” is about as
close to traditional prog-rock form as you’ll find on Flying Colors, an unbridled seven-minute jam that cleverly fuses
elements of Steve Morse’s solo history, the Dixie Dregs, Neal Morse’s best
moments with Spock’s Beard, and an overall impish nature. Morse’s six-string
flights of fancy soar wildly in varying directions, shards of rough-edged rock
guitar mixed with scraps of jazz-fusion, the other Morse’s classicist keyboards
channeling 1970s-era Yes while Portnoy, one of the most versatile time-keepers
in rock ‘n’ roll and capable of playing virtually anything, delivers a subtle albeit driving rhythm. The result is an
enchanting performance that nimbly dances across a prog-rock landscape like a fleet-footed
fire walker.


contrast, the muscular “Shoulda Coulda Woulda” is a sharp-edged,
prog-metal rocker more akin to Portnoy’s tenure with Dream Theater than anything
experienced by the other band members (OK, maybe not, considering Morse’s contributions
to Deep Purple’s recent excellent albums). McPherson’s vocals shine brightly in
the mix, the backing instrumentation dominated by Portnoy’s clever,
heavy-handed percussion and Morse’s frantic, live-wire fretwork. The song is an
invigorating breath of fresh air, treading a fine line between prog and metal,
doing both proud while extending beyond the often clichéd representation of
either. The following “Kayla” is downright pastoral in comparison,
reminding of 1980s-era Marillion or early Pallas, focusing on vocals and
Morse’s mesmerizing, dream-weaving guitarplay.


darkly-provocative (double tracked?) guitar intros the passionate
“Everything Changes,” the band providing an imaginative take on the
ol’ heartbreak tale. McPherson stretches out his vocals to hit new emotional
heights as the band brings in a bit of the Beatles here, a soupcon of
latter-era Genesis there, a little solo Neal Morse influence on the edges, but
always with a unique voice. Morse’s guitar stings with casual elegance while
the band delivers a stunning instrumental backdrop that combines melody and
chaos with a deep rhythmic groove. The frenetic “All Falls Down”
would sound like mundane thrash-metal if not for the band’s talents, Steve Morse’s
lightning-bolt fret-shredding combined with Neal Morse’s stabbing keyboards and
Portnoy’s powder keg drumbeats to build a perfect machine behind McPherson’s
vocals, which themselves are backed by the band’s somber, black harmonies.


Flying Colors ends with “Infinite Fire,” a
wild and ambitious twelve-minute musical roller-coaster ride that reminds of
early Spock’s Beard (which, in turn, was heavily influenced by Yes) but with
the crucial difference of the band’s individual musical experiences. While Neal
Morse’s hand can be heard throughout the song’s lyrics and arrangements, the
band’s collective contribution can’t be understated, and once “Infinite
Fire” breaks past the five-minute pop song format, the last seven minutes
is a thrilling, breathtaking display of instrumental prowess and musical imagination.
Morse’s guitar rips through the mix like a hungry feline, with all the grace
and efficiency of movement that implies; Morse’s keyboards jig lively atop the
head of a pin, reminding of obvious prog predecessors like Keith Emerson or
Rick Wakeman; and the rhythm section delivers a groove wide enough to back a
fleet of trucks into, Portnoy’s drumming especially dynamic and demanding.


Overall, Flying Colors is an auspicious debut
from a band of incredibly talented and frequently underrated (and overlooked)
musicians. In another era (i.e. the early 1970s), Neal Morse’s acute sense of
pop-rock history and his immense songwriting and arranging skills would have
made him a superstar; Steve Morse would be spoken of in the same way as
“guitar gods” like Jimmy Page or Jeff Beck; and Mike Portnoy’s
reputation would rival that of John Bonham or Keith Moon. Instead, these guys
are satisfied simply making great music. If you have an hour to spare, you
could do worse than sharing it with Flying Colors.        


DOWNLOAD: “Blue Ocean,”
“Everything Changes,” “All Falls Down,” “Infinite


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