FLYING COLORS – Third Degree

When Flying Colors released their self-titled debut album back in 2012, I thought they would be just another one-off project. The members – Casey McPherson (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Steve Morse (lead guitar), Dave LaRue (bass), Mike Portnoy (drums) and Neal Morse (keyboards, lead vocals) – are dudes with tight schedules in bands such as Deep Purple, Neal Morse Band, solo careers and studio jobs and in Portnoy’s case, a gazillion other bands such as The Winery Dogs and today Sons Of Apollo. That record totally knocked me for six and I was hoping for a continuation – which I got in 2014 with the equally brilliant Second Nature. They even played live at some occasions and now when their third record has hit the shelves, I think it’s time to start seeing them as a real band. Fact is, I wouldn’t mind if the guys started seeing Flying Colors as their main priority. Of course, when you have two magnificent releases in the back-water, there are some major expectations when new stuff is released.

Opening track “The Loss Inside” kicks off with a bang, bringing on some heavy riffing and a dark mood on a straight-forward note. The verses are somewhat laid-back but also very groove-oriented, even slightly funky at times. The chorus is more melodic with a hook-laden vocal-melody, very recognizable as Flying Colors do have a sound of their own. It’s not overly progressive even though it leans towards that but the Classic Rock meets melodic Hard Rock takes over. A great way to start the record. Leading single “More” is next – and I’d say it’s a daring move as the tune isn’t exactly radio-friendly. Chunky guitars start the song over a punchy and steady beat. The vocal-melody in the verses reminds me some of Muse while the concise and straight-forward refrain brings on a chest full of hooks, making it a catchy thing. A keyboard laden passage with an acoustic guitar showing up on a ballad-like note comes in before the tune goes back to it’s rockier origins when the band comes back in. Pure brilliance.

“Cadence” is a ballad in mid-pace that holds a soothing arrangement and a folky twist, slightly orchestrated. We also get smooth melodies, a tight rhythm-section and a startling refrain that grabs a hold immediately. It does take some proggy turns but the song is all about the melody and gorgeous vocals. It’s not a far cry from “Kayla” from the debut but it’s more evocative and prog-structured. I was floored from hello. “Guardian” is a mid-paced, pop-laden rocker, quite smooth and laid-back and holds a taciturn touch. The middle breakdown also comes with a groovy, infectious bass-line that’s both progressive and rhythmic, before the song goes back to its more poppy normal. The melodies here are all very accessible and direct and they stick in my mind from go. It’s a great tune with single-potential.

Then comes one of this album’s big, epic monster-tracks at 10 minutes long. It starts out smooth and atmospheric on the ballad side, slow but with a grand soundscape. It then goes into a more progressive passage with a keyboard that brings Marillion to mind, upbeat on a punchy rhythm only for an acoustic and stripped break, sporting only vocals and guitar to come along with some drums and bass added later to create a held-back groove. That in turn brings on a folk-like touch done with a slight Led Zeppelin influence before the song takes another turn into a progressive Rock mode. They round of this masterpiece of a song as a prog-rock laden half-ballad with a soothing melody and a smooth yet not mawkish arrangement. It’s also worth mentioning that McPherson and Neal Morse share the lead vocals on the track which makes it even more dynamic. Pure brilliance.

The band takes yet another turn with the slightly jazz-influenced, slow and laid-back pop-rock tune “Geronimo”. The song holds some progressive twists, a slightly funky groove and some AOR-ish turns with a nod towards early Toto. When the chorus comes, the tune heavies up some, sporting a stompy rhythm, big vocals and a damn catchy refrain complete with some 80’s sounding “whoa whoa whoa” for good measure. Brilliant tune. In “You Are Not Alone”, the second video, we’re provided with a slow ballad, smooth yet atmospheric that holds a beautiful soundscape, gorgeous guitar melodies and a soft yet never cheesy or mawkish outlook. It’s quite earthy but big in sound and the chorus is spot-on and stick right off the bat.

Flying Colors has never sounded more cute and glistening than in the pop-song, the latest single “Love Letter”. It is upbeat with a good swing, some late 50’s sounding pop-arrangements, a tidy Beatles touch and melodies very smooth and slick but never syrupy or wimpy. The refrain is totally unescapable, it’s gonna get to you no matter if you like it or not. I think it’s awesome. Then, the band round things off with another epic, 11-minute prog-rock belter called “Crawl”. The song starts out as a straightforward progressive Melodic Rock song on an upbeat note, big on catchiness with a hook in every corner. A guitar solo over a groovy ground passage follows only for the tune to slow down, still with rhythmic punches before it gets laid-back and atmospheric on a softer mode. It then bounces back into a rhythmic groove in a mid-pace and an effective vocal-melody. It’s a great prog-rocker that holds both catchy, even sing-alongish melodies and technical prowess, but it never goes overkill.

They say third time’s a charm, but that don’t really apply to Flying Colors as both the first and the second time were the charm. Three albums in and all of them made of pure brilliance, I don’t think these guys could cut a half-assed record even if they tried – I can’t even speak of a lowest level here because there is none. Flying Colors do have their own sound and style and even though you might know what to expect after two albums there are those little things that makes this band non-repetitive. They are all phenomenal musicians and singers, of course, but what’s more important, they’re also stellar song-writers who knows that a catchy refrain and striking melodies always win over musical capacity. Which of their albums is their best? I have no clue, in my mind they’re all equal. Here’s the third record I reviewed in a short time that will end up top 5 when the Album Of The Year is listed.



1. The Loss Inside
2. More
3. Cadence
4. Guardian
5. Last Train Home
6. Geronimo
7. You Are Not Alone
8. Love Letter
9. Crawl