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Greater than the sum of its parts
on March 26, 2012
Frequently, supergroups produce some of the least "super" and most underwhelming music out there. More often than not, we see great players and creative minds collaborating on albums with one another, only to discover, upon hearing these records, that none of the individual member's defining characteristics have been preserved. Instead, these supergroups-- the Chickenfoots of the world-- produce music that's bland and colorless; that is simply "there"; that is, without a doubt, "less than the sum of its parts."
Thankfully, that is NOT the case with this new album. Instead, this record is some of the most inspired playing and most creative music that I've heard from any of the artists involved in quite some time. It is not watered down in the slightest, as supergroups tend to be. Nor can it be caricatured one way or the other; as "prog rock" or anything else. It defies labels. It is, simply put, five guys with unique attitudes toward music coming together to produce something genuinely fresh, new, and exciting. Sometimes it's prog, or metal, or 70's/80's rock, but listening to it you always get the sense that these five guys are playing this music and making it their own-- rather than coming down to from their expertise to play as studio-guys. Everyone shines here, and everyone's going all out. That maybe is why it's called "Flying Colors".
Though I initially had my reservations that this album would simply become another Neal Morse solo project, that has not been the case. Neal's contributions are apparent, but the primary singer/songwriter here seems to be Casey McPhereson, who I sincerely hope will make this project the main outlet for his creativity henceforth. Although, at this point, I'm not sure who is responsible for which songs, the songwriting here is top-notch. Though many songs deal with the same religious themes fans of Neal Morse will be familiar with, at no place is this album as overtly "biblical" as Neal's solo-work. The thematic range is much broader- there are love-songs, songs about hardship, songs about faith, and so on, and while I sense that these topics are dealt with in sort of a "christian" way, they are still portrayed universally enough for non-Christians to appreciate them. Casey's voice, heard most often on the album, is a nice parallel to the other voices in the group and compliments the music nicely.
Mike Portnoy and Steve Morse are at the top of their game here-- though the latter can do no wrong, the former displays once again why progressive music is his home. Over the years, Mike Portnoy's best drumming has not been in Adrenaline Mob, A7X, or the heavier, post-Six Degrees DT albums he has played on. Rather, it has been in Transatlantic and Neal Morse. This album is no exception. Mike is at the top of this game here, and locks in with bassists David LaRue's grooving style perfectly. I think this is his best drumming in a long, long time. It is further proof that, where Portnoy is a just a minor-player in the metal world, he is a prophet in the dominion of prog rock. As for Steve Morse? His playing is astounding. Every note on the album sounds so "right", like he could not have played a better note, or done with more or less. He truly is a master of the craft.
What makes Flying Colors so special is that it is not just Transatlantic + Dixie Dregs + Alpha Rev. It's something much different, and something new. "Kayla" makes us tear up, while "The Storm" liberates us, and the chorus to "Infinite Fire" will call to us when for weeks, even when we're not listening to it. It's an emotional and exciting album, and I sincerely hope that this project will be more than a one-off thing.