Sound — 8
Flying Colors is a rock supergroup comprised of drummer Mike Portnoy, guitarist Steve Morse, keyboardist Neal Morse (no relation), bassist Dave LaRue, and lead vocalist Casey McPherson. The band's first album, released in March 2012, reached #9 on the Billboard Hard Rock chart. "Second Nature" is the band's second album.
When the band was conceived, the defining concept of it was the mix of an eclectic group of progressive musicians with a pop singer. Oftentimes, two such diametrically opposed genres as progressive rock and pop rock do not form a cohesive amalgam. But Flying Colors manages to combine the two genres in a natural, unforced manner. Seldom does a side-project yield such unique and idyll results.
Actually, when I began to listen to the album, I was disappointed. Both Mike Portnoy and Steve Morse sounded like they were holding back. And at first glance, Casey McPherson was not a good enough vocalist to make up the ground Portnoy and Morse gave up.
But this album is a grower. The melodies started getting stuck in my head. I never thought they were particularly good, but nevertheless I could not stop humming them to myself. As generic as "Mask Machine" sounded, it was still catchy. Eventually, I started paying attention to the lyrics and realized that there was actually some substance to them. And even though the supposedly virtuosic musicians in the group did not play like their usual flashy selves, I started to realize that it would be completely out of place for them to do so.
See, it would be wrong to approach this album with pre-conceived notions of what it should sound like given the members' backgrounds (though this does seem to be the biggest draw of a supergroup). Once past this hurdle it is easy to see where the album shines. All McPherson's melodies are catchy, maybe not Michael Jackson catchy, but good enough to hold someone's attention. A couple of the songs are over ten minutes long; they don't get there by just repeating the same verse. Yes, there are many instrumental sections. Again, they're not as flashy as one would expect from the reputations of the band members, but they are still interesting and they fit the songs well. Actually, they sound very much like '70s prog rock. All parts of the instrumental sections, from the bouncy synths to the guitar solos, have that geeky type of prog feeling, the one that I usually hear on early Rush albums.
The biggest and best comparison I can draw between Flying Colors and Rush is that they are both prog rock bands that I would actually like to see live. Personally, I feel that many prog rock/metal bands play music that is so complex and outlandish that it sounds like mud at a concert. Like Rush, Flying Colors plays music that is definitely proggy, yet focused enough to be understood at a concert by someone who had never heard the band before.
Lyrics — 8
Casey McPherson's vocal performance is the part of this album that has been growing on me the most. As I said before, all of his melodies are catchy, but not over the top annoying. His voice is mature/deep and filled with just enough force to fit the album. Again, nothing amazing, but it feels right.
McPherson more so shines with his lyrics than with his vocal ability. The idea of the mask machine is pretty cool once you think about it. "Place in This World" is not the newest idea in terms of song lyrics, but McPherson communicates his ideas clearly and creates a cohesive story/message, something rarely found in lyrics today.
Overall Impression — 7
Overall, this album is more of a fun listen than anything else. It's not breaking any boundaries like progressive music usually does, but on the other hand, it is nice to hear some prog that sounds old. It's quirky, interesting, and fairly deep. I would recommend this to a friend, if only to take it to his house and listen together while we do other things. And if Flying Colors, does manage to make it to my area on their tour, I would definitely go to see them.