It’s hard not to like Flying Colors, yet equally hard to completely love it.

The supergroup finds Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy teaming up once again (not only are they members of supergroup Transatlantic, but Portnoy is the longtime drummer on Morse’s prog-oriented solo works). Only this time, instead of Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings) and Pete Trewavas (Marillion), they are joined by Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse Band), Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev), and Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Kansas, and no relation to Neal). They are also joined by producer Peter Collins who oversaw several albums by Rush, Queensryche, and even Billy Squier. There is enough in this mix that you could expect the results to be a unique experience.

You get that to a degree on the track “All Falls Down” which, on first listen, sounds far too close to Muse for comfort. You also get the occasional muscularity that represents the push and pull of Portnoy’s dual interests: the prog and the metal (“Shoulda Coulda Woulda”). But mostly you get an album that sounds suspiciously like another Transatlantic release. For many in the audience, that’s perfect, and you can always count on the individual members to bring a high level of musicianship to the fore. Others, expecting this to be a departure, may well be disappointed that the changes in the lineup really don’t signify a lot of change in the end product.

You can imagine that I was a little confused while listening to it, as McPherson’s voice sounds much more like Coldplay’s Chris Martin (this sounds most evident on “Everything Changes”) than it does Neal Morse, the majority vocalist in the previously mentioned projects, yet delivers it very much as Morse would.  It was hard to accept this as an entirely new and separate entity when structurally, thematically, and often harmonically it was itself denying differences. Add to that Morse adding plenty of background vocals and Portnoy taking the lead vox now and then, and what you have left is a very good but slightly altered Transatlantic.

There’s the key phrase: very good. Morse and Portnoy are talented artists who surround themselves with talented artists, and Flying Colors features plenty of great melodies, but many of them are already familiar to longtime fans. Some will find that comforting and others will walk away from the disc with an appreciation, but not necessarily a deep and abiding love for the material. I’ve listened to it several times now, and the moments that stick out are the ones that could have been on Transatlantic’s Bridge Across Forever, or Morse’s recent Testimony 2.

I understand how that could happen. Every musician has a comfort zone of chord progressions and tonal eccentricities and, if they aren’t challenged to break from them, they can easily lapse into something more than just “sounding like themselves” and more like “repeating themselves.” Fortunately, Flying Colors isn’t quite at that point but they are perilously close.

Better Than Walking Away – Flying Colors

Flying Colors is available from Amazon.com

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