Review Summary: Constantly ranging between exhilarating and lacklustre, Flying Colors is a shockingly uneven rock album.
Aside from the title of Jethro Tull's song, Flying Colors is a brand new super group formed by such progressive rock legends as Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals), Neal Morse (keyboards, vocals), Steve Morse (guitar) and Dave LaRue (bass) who unexpectedly team up with Casey McPherson, a fairly unknown pop singer with an admirably wide vocal range. This line-up has been intriguing from the get-go, which has only aroused sky high expectations for their self-titled album. Fans of labyrinthine progressive techniques of songwriting may be sorely disappointed since the band opts for straightforward, alternative-inclined songs most of the time. Flying Colors
, in fact, is a varied album that revolves around the multitude of references including various nods to traditional progressive rock, accessible hard rock or even melodic pop.
While Casey McPherson seems to be the odd one in the group of refined musicians, he truly lives up to the game with his diverse vocal delivery. It's not entirely his fault that the album doesn't quite measure up to the talent involved in creating it. As expected, Flying Colors
features top-notch musicianship from every player with numerous flashy moments scattered throughout. However, it's the clearly lacking in consistency song craft that bogs the record down. The disc begins superbly with “Blue Ocean,” a loving ode to the 1970s progressive rock that feels both playful and genuine. The track that follows, awfully titled “Shoulda Woulda Coulda” contrasts the idyllic tone of the opener with a high-octane, driving guitar play that references King's X in its prime. Additionally, McPherson recreates Scott Weiland's falsetto combining it with a hook-driven chorus to startling effect. After these two standout tracks, the album slowly mellows out and thus deteriorates in quality. “Kayla” has endearing verses that build to an overly sappy chorus, while “The Storm” is a forced attempt at radio rock that recalls Coldplay with its tepid arrangement.
Later on, the songwriting continues to be hit or miss interweaving irresistible infectiousness of “Forever In A Daze” and Beatlesque playfulness of “Love Is What I'm Waiting For” with drab, trite and downright unmemorable ballades in “Everything Changes” and “Better Than Walking Away.” The title of the most captivating cut in the clearly inferior second half of the disc goes to endearingly restrained “Fool In My Heart.” This track, which is almost exclusively sung by Portnoy, appears to have an autobiographical undertone that reflects on his break-up with Dream Theater.
Given the collaborative character of the project, it comes as apparent that the record should capture the personal style of each member. Apart from pop tendencies which derive from McPherson's aesthetics, Neal Morse has managed to leave his stamp on the vast sections of the album with his distinct pastoral take on progressive rock. In particular, the splendid opener would feel at home on his religiously themed records. It's a shame that his contribution often had to give way to a simpler, less challenging approach to many songs. With a yawning gap in quality between its highs and lows, Flying Colors
might be regarded as an album of lost potential which seems tepid and half-baked, especially when compared to the best work of musicians involved.