25 September 2019

Review: Flying Colors – Third Degree

Flying Colors – Third Degree (Mascot Label Group)

Released (on multiple formats): October 4th 2019

What do you get if you put musicians who’ve been involved with the likes of Deep Purple, Dream Theater, Spock’s Beard, Winery Dogs, Avenged Sevenfold, Transatlantic, The Sea Within, Kansas and Dixie Dregs into a studio together ????

You end up with FLYING COLORS…..

With their third album due for imminent release on October 4th, I think it’s safe to say fans of the previous two albums will have already pre-ordered this, as have fans of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy et al.

Having been around for approx 10 years, the latest project from Workaholics Anonymous Portnoy and Morse melded into a full on band featuring Steve Morse (no relation), Dave LaRue and (ultimately) Casey McPherson with the release of their self-titled first album in 2012, to much critical and fan acclaim.

Roll on the years and we have had a second album “Second Nature” (2014), two tours in conjunction, a resultant live album and on October 4th, a third album “Third Degree”.

Meanwhile, we wait with bated breath for news on album 4 – “Go Forth” maybe ??

So, what can you expect if you decide to part with your hard-earned ???

Basically, if you liked the last two albums, it’s a safe bet you’re gonna go ape-shit over this one, likewise if you’re a fan of Melodic Prog (with an emphasis on the melodic !!). Having had this on constant rotation in my car the past few weeks, I have come to the conclusion, this is an album of two halves, allow me to explain.

Kicking off with “The Loss Inside“, this cranks up the amps from the offset and really gives Steve Morse plenty of opportunity to bring some Deep Purple chops to the table, along with some nice Hammond from his band mate, Neal Morse (did I mention they’re not related ??), an excellent track to get things boiling, but ends rather abruptly just shy of 6 mins. This is followed by the “single” MORE and I have to admit, I feel this has a Muse vibe going on. Again, another rocker, but 4 1/2 mins in, goes all acoustic and wistful before coming back to form 2 mins later with a nice synth solo from Mr Morse Junior. “Cadence“, track number 3 features a small string section. The track ebbs and flows nicely with some sumptuous harmonies, a soulful and uplifting piece with yet more incredible geeeetar work from Morse Snr. Onto track 4 “Guardian” – Starts with a nice bass line from Dave LaRue before building into yet another harmonised vocal and guitar piece with Mr LaRue flexing his muscles 2/3 of the way into the track with a nice bass line before coming back to the original theme and chorus, perfectly constructed with no hint of ego. Track 5 “Last Train Home” – The second longest track on the album and probably the closest you’re gonna get to an epic from these guys. Steve Morse kicks in early on with a memorable guitar theme which resurrects itself at regular intervals throughout and then, at 3 1/2 mins, the track takes a turn with a nice instrumental section bringing in the entire band and a freak out synth section from Morse Jnr before an acoustic interlude featuring Morse Jnr taking over lead vocals from Casey McPherson – this is SO Neal Morse !! At the 7 1/2 min mark, the strings are back helping to create a nice upbeat coda before coming back to the original theme with soaring vocals, orchestration and THAT guitar line again, memorable stuff indeed and another track to lift the soul with a nice guitar/synth playout – A mini epic indeed.
Track 6 “Geronimo” – Starting out like the kind of intro you’d expect from a Steely Dan track with some funky bass from Dave LaRue, this track houses what I would likely call a “crowd pleaser” as we get the “wo wo ho” line we can all join in with if we don’t know the lyrics. Deffo one for the live dates methinks, the closest you’ll get to “Prog you can dance and wo wo ho to” !! BUT, it ends just as it’s starts to get going. Being used to long tracks (I’m a Progger FFS), I do feel some of the tracks could have been “fleshed out” more at times without over-staying their welcome…
Track 7 “You Are Not Alone” – No doubt about it, this is where the album shifts for me – this is a scarf-waver !!! Probably the slowest paced song on the album, but a great deal of emotion from CM and THAT GUITAR again, momentous. Didn’t do much for me tbh, but a nice come down after the manic work-outs on the earlier tracks.
Track 8 “Love Letter” – Shortest track on the album. Flying Colors go POP !! I have to admit, there is some absolutely gorgeous vocal harmonies in here, it’s all harmless fun and a nice Summer vibe. Uncomplicated, but catchy hook and not a hint of Prog in sight, but a safe and competent guitar solo halfway and a pleasant playout. A lost gem from Beach Boys perhaps, who knew……??
Track 9 “Crawl” – Longest track and does it go thru’ some changes or WHAT ??? The album’s second mini-epic. A nice Mellotron/Morse Jnr interlude at 8 mins, Morse Snr rises to the occasion throughout with soaring guitar-work, but overall, although a “longie”, I didn’t feel this like Track 5, it didn’t quite gel for me. Can’t put my finger on it, but a nice way to conclude this thrill ride of an album……

So in summary, an album with literally “something for everyone” which is great as it makes for an interesting, diverse mix where you never really know where it’s going, but at the same time, will it deter the “Consistency Brigade” ??. The first half rocks ass, the second – a more commercial and laid back vibe, even so, nothing short of yet another top quality offering from the lads, all topped off with state-of-the-art engineering using HPAR technology (Harmonic Phrase Analysis and Restoration – phew !!) and a well honed mix from the legend that is producer Rich Mouser (Neal Morse Band and Transatlantic to name but a few).

Is it Prog (who knows and cares ?). Is it worth shelling out for ?? You bet your sweet ass it is – Go Forth And Purchase.