Album Review: The Awkward Genius of Flying Colors' 'Second Nature'

Second Nature, the sophomore album from prog "supergroup" Flying Colors is really awkward.??

It's not bad awkward.

In fact, much of the material here is astonishingly good.

The problem being that - interspersed with this good material, are a lot of, well, cringe-worthy moments; Parts that you wouldn't want to be caught playing from your car stereo, etc.

??A summary of the Flying Colors dynamic would be this - a bunch of jaw-dropping, talented, world-renown virtuoso musicians (in this case, Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Neal Morse and Dave LaRue) come together to form a backing band for a relative unknown, singer-songwriter Casey McPherson. This is at once confounding and intriguing and also has the effect of pissing your everyday prog rock fan off.

As in: we don't listen to Steve Morse and Mike Portnoy to hear them play with restraint, goddamnit. Who is this guy? What'd he do? Was he just like 'hey guys, wanna be in my band?'?? ??

On that note, it's also like who is this guy? ??

The answer and result are pretty anticlimactic. McPherson is an able, but fairly unremarkable, singer and songwriter in the Coldplay/Muse vein. He's pleasant, but also 100% responsible for all the "bad" of Second Nature.

??That might be a little unfair though, because Flying Colors doesn't have a Casey McPherson problem, they have a self-editing problem. There are tracks on here that definitely display legitimate chemistry.

When Second Nature works, it works remarkably well.

"Mask Machine" is a combination of blistering alt-rock and quirky, almost circusy, prog.

Steve Morse's solo is stacked full of Brian May bends and that god-like alternate picking control that allows the listener to close their eyes, float off, and, for the first time in Mike Portnoy's post-Dream Theater career, pretend that they're listening to Dream Theater.

??Then there's "Bombs Away," which starts with a bluesy call-and-response from Morse and bassist Dave LaRue and sees McPherson exhibiting some rock-n-roll swagger with his delivery, culminating in a verse section that's kind-of similar to the Pink Floyd classic, "Have a Cigar." That is, until McPherson steps in and does that Muse-thing with his voice and the song becomes its own immensely catchy pop entity.

Morse (Steve) - as always - nails his solo and the bridge section is, like, the most authentically-reminiscent-of-Dixie-Dregs piece of music that your reviewer has heard in years.

??The best song on here though is unquestionably "Peaceful Harbor," which begins with a lone vocal line that wouldn't sound out of place on an album from any cool and critically acclaimed indie band (think The Antlers, think Sufjan Stevens) and crescendos into a very Dark Side of the Moon, gospel choir and soul singer, totally awesome finale that's probably - on paper - overwrought and/or overly dramatic, but is still just so f*cking awesome that even if it's somewhat lacking in originality, it more than makes up for it in its replay value.

??If Second Nature were an EP comprised of these three songs alone, your reviewer would be hard-pressed to not give it a damn-near-flawless rating, but unfortunately, the majority of Second Nature is weighed down by sappy lyricism (in all honesty, this probably isn't a problem for you if you're reading this review).

The entire middle section of the album - namely, "The Fury of My Love," "A Place in Your World," "Lost Without You" and "One Love Forever" - could be omitted; the song titles alone being indicative of their problems.

These tracks aren't horrible per se, but they should probably be relegated to McPherson's solo work and are altogether disappointing in comparison to the other songs that showcase Flying Colors' full potential.

Second Nature's bookend tracks, "Open Up Your Eyes" and "Cosmic Symphony" are both fairly strong but would be stronger if their lengths were cut in half.

The latter song calls to mind that classic English prog sound (think early Genesis) that you don't really hear anymore in contemporary prog albums - despite the fact that almost all contemporary prog bands claim to be influenced by said sound.

??The final verdict on Second Nature ultimately relies on the approach of the listener. If you come into this as a prog fan, a Dream Theater fan, etc., there's a whole lot to like here.

The only way I could see a prog fan not liking this is if they're totally opposed to any sort of pop appeal whatsoever.

If you come in as a pop fan, there's also a whole lot to like, but some of the songs might seem a little long.

If you just opt for a general, objective approach, Second Nature will serve to highlight the charms and flaws of both genres.??