Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Music Review - Flying Colors - Second Nature

A good album but I'm still going back to their first for my "melodic pop-prog" fix rather than this one.

The idea was to assemble a band of seasoned veterans and have it fronted by a younger pop vocalist. Hey, it worked for Garbage and it worked for Flying Colors, so much so that I kicked myself for “discovering” their album too late to write a review (it’s a music dork kind of thing). Do you remember hearing “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes or “Heat of the Moment” / “Only Time Will Tell” by Asia, both in MTVs early days? The pop hooks grabbed me instantly and though I wasn’t brushed up on my music theory, I could tell that something very interesting was going on under the hood. Such was the music on the first Flying Colors album where gossamer melodies fought each other for time inside your head while some seriously fantastic music played underneath.

While I’ve found myself humming a few of its melodies Second Nature does not reach the same dizzying heights of perfection as its predecessor. One of its biggest problems are the lyrics. They’re kinda cheesy, especially for a rock album made by veterans who should know better. Non-imaginative song titles include “The Fury of My Love”, “A Place In Your World” and “Lost Without You”, a nice shorthand for the lyrics they contain. Also instead of creating explosive blasts of intelligent pop music the band returns more to the trough of 70s era prog rock, evoking thoughts of Kansas (“Bombs Away”) and Styx (“A Place In Your World”).

But it’s not all bad. The first track, “Open Up Your Eyes”, is a traditional Neal Morse progressive rocker with four minutes of instrumental bliss before lyrics encroach, eventually filling out twelve and a half minutes with catchy melodies, interesting musical twists and non-offensive spiritual lyrics. Channeling Muse is “Mask Machine”, their single that starts with Dave LaRue sporting a fuzzy and delicious bass tone, similar to that applied to vocalist Casey McPherson. Overall the song is a bit simplistic, especially at six minutes long, and repeats “Woo-oo-oo” much too frequently (as in every few lines) but the song does rock. Watch the video to hear for yourself and to see proof that there is no way to make rock keyboardists look cool. Sorry Neal, but you know it’s true. Drummer Mike Portnoy, on the other hand, would look cool baking a quiche. “Peaceful Harbor” is a nice slow build, growing from acoustic guitar to power ballad complete with some very tasteful guitar solos via Steve Morse. My only beef with the song is the inclusion of a gospel choir at the end, a very tired way of “ending big.” Fortunately the band shows how to “end big” the right way on the last song, the twelve minute “Cosmic Symphony” (they are humble, no?). Constructed of three equally captivating musical ideas, nicely fleshed out and held together by more astounding Steve Morse guitar solos, the song “ends big” by ending quietly and introspectively, reflecting the profound and intelligent lyrics contained within.

Now don’t get the idea that Second Nature is a bad album. It’s good but just seems to be missing something, like the band is too nice to each other and will accept “good” instead of pushing each other for “better.” “Better” was their first album but if they keep at it I’m sure one day they will release “Best.” I can hardly wait.

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