Flying Colors – CD Review

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Supergroups, go figure. 

Crosby, Stills, and Nash (& Young). Check. 
Cream.  Check. 
Blind Faith – half check (for short duration).
Asia – check.
Traveling Wilburys – half check.
Velvet Revolver – half check.
Chickenfoot – check.

There’s plenty of others, mostly depending on how “super” you might regard the bands from which the members came.

For Flying Colors, we have members of: Dream Theater, Spock’s Beard, Dixie Dregs (x2), and, uh, Alpha Rev.  The “super” aspects for this group of musicians largely surround their instrumental virtuosity.  They’re really, really fine musicians.  So, when really, really fine musicians get together to write music, what type of music will they make?  Will they play it safe within their comfort zones?  Take their genres to farther reaches?  Or cash in for “commercial product” – i.e, sell out?

Flying Colors largely has opted for the latter by way of their vocal stylings.  Well played commercial music is  enjoyable.  If one looks back at “classic rock,” you’ll find clean guitar lines that build emotions, excellent vocals, and songs with “hooks”.   Sadly, none of that is found here. 

Well, then, how about if one views it as a progressive rock album?  That would involve frequent instrumental flourishes, a variety of pacing amongst songs and within songs, and, lyrics that tell some sort of story, which can either be appreciated or ignored due to the quality elsewhere in the music.  I think Flying Colors has something in this regard, as evidenced by the blogging Prog Rock community’s enthusiasm for this CD.

Really?

“Blue Ocean” – Studio chatter introduces this song, which is launched by David LaRue’s hyperactive bass.  And, here comes the singing...  good range, emotive and completely non-distinctive.  Per my son, “it just doesn’t fit” (in context with the excellent things going on musically in the background).

“Shoulda Coulda Woulda” – I guess it’s the Beiberization of vocals in recent years.  You can put every other instrument through pedals and filters to make them sound different, why not “help” the vocalist?  It’s usually an indication that, untreated, it just wasn’t happening.  Anyway, this is a straightforward brash rocker with elements of Nine Inch Nails and Muse.

“Kayla” – Generally regarded as a standout, it’s got a great musical groove.  Percussion, guitar... they’ve got it cooking.  But the vocals...  yeah, they’re treated a bit, but the problem is in the song construction.  The music doesn’t lead to a chorus – there’s no bridge – it’s just a jump off the bridge leap in the lack of better ideas.  The chorus itself is nice – it just doesn’t fit where the music has been.   What a waste.

“The Storm” – This sounds like a song that was actually worked out in full before arriving in the studio.  It’s got a nice lyric and it’s made for radio.  It’s the kind of FM radio song that people enjoy but never buy.

“Forever in a Daze” – Moving from 80’s Top 40 to a rock swagger, this track is just a miss.  Steve Morse adds a sinister sounding guitar intro, backed by typically excellent Larue Bass.  This is the first song that has a feel of something special, the type of special that Page and Jones might have worked into something magnificent.  Instead, we have treated vocals, a clunky transition to the chorus, and a complete loss of vibe.  But, “listen to that bass, dad.  It’s so good!”

“Love is What I’m Waiting For” – Almost a pop song.  Lou Gramm could have made it that, back in the day.  The song works as a whole, with a Beatles’ simplicity, and Morse almost manages to slow his fretwork to a George Harrison pace.  Almost.  Still, it suffers from the “dropped in chorus” phenomena, now routinely observed on this CD.

“Everything Changes” – With more of an indie vocalist styling, this song works pretty well, even the unexpected pop detour in the middle.  It’s good progressive stuff, with room for Morse to blitz his notes and provide space for the keyboards (ala Genesis) to be heard at the end.  Sadly, keyboards get lost in most of the songs.

“Better Than Walking Away” – Solid album filler, sung in faux Chris Martin falsetto. 

“Ode to Muse” – a frenetic rocker – Oh, sorry.  It’s actually titled “All Falls Down.”  Yes, I think Muse would have done this better, but the question is why this band would want to sound like Muse?  Or Coldplay? or the Beatles? or anyone else?

“Fool in My Heart” – Suddenly the vocal space is pleasing and rich in texture.  What the?  Drummer Mike Portnoy takes over lead vocals, and McPherson’s accents are revealed as annoyingly thin and reedy, untreated as they are.  This is a good song – it works on all (other) levels.

“Infinite Fire” – Finally, we come to the longer drawn out opus that offers the musicians space to flex their muscles.  It has a nice jazzy intro which segues into something commercial before breaking off into virtuoso land.  Neal Morse’s keyboards are finally heard, Steve Morse’s guitar has room to roam, at which he never fails to entertain, and, in an appropriate gesture to Yes’ penchant for tying musical snatches together, McPherson’s Jon Anderson tribute works as well. 

This is a very disappointing CD, perhaps more from expectations than failures wihin.  Each and every song has musical muscle and flourishes that grab attention, but it’s a losing cause.  The problems:

  • Lack of identity – who do they want to be?  If you want to be Asia, do it better than they did.  If you want to be the best prog rock band, don’t aim for popularity contests.
  • Song construction – come on, if you want commercial appeal, listen to Styx, REO, Foreigner, etc. for just a glimmer of how to build hooks.
  • Vocals – McPherson isn’t the right fit for the music, but to be fair, I don’t know who would be.  It’s a challenging task, but sounding like anyone but yourself is a pretty good clue that it’s just not working here.
  • Lyrics – not bad, actually.  Stanzas read well, and they’re generally uplifting and hopeful.  But for the most part, they dissipate at the end of each song.  I’m pressed to recall much of them, having listened to the CD quite a bit.
  • The rush – the CD was reportedly recorded in 10 days.  That saves studio time and may fit members’ schedules, but here’s to hoping that they take a lot longer in working out their musical ideas next time around.  And I hope there is, because musically, they can collectively deserve “supergroup” status.

I will say that I’ve gradually warmed to the CD, but it’s not one that I will play often or with an active ear.  And that’s a shame.

2 of 5 STARS

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