Intro: Panos Papazoglou
Translation: Lefteris Statharas
After two albums, small tours, big breaks and very high expectations, Flying Colors are back with Third Degree and they bring their name back amidst strong progressive releases. Is Third Degree one of those releases? Probably not, since the title of supergroup probably is unfair and keeps Flying Colors in a one-way street that goes on without deviating from the initial vision. The stagnation seems to lead to dead ends in this third work.
Sure, but it has a nice album cover!
Amidst countless partnerships, in which the restless Mike Portnoy has worked in, already since his Dream Theater days, I thought that Flying Colors had all of the reasons -even if they had the overused tag of supergroup- to be the protagonists with Transatlantic, not only as a good, but also as a fresh and ambitious suggestion, since they had a different musical point of view. That is, not only in order to get rid of the casual stagnation that burdens supergroups, but also because the first taste of the band showed a maturity and a special approach to hard rock sound with some contemporary Muse-like touches but always through the “progressive” prism. Especially their debut was such an example of a record with a specific direction and new (more commercial) logic, with the band combining their technical prowess in adventurous compositions, and at the same time interacting with pure pop forms with the same comfort, creating an accessible sound for a different audience.
The same pattern was followed in Second Nature, with more prog elements and recognition (as much as a band that includes Portnoy and Morse needs), something that led to higher expectations for the next step of Flying Colors. It took them five years to meet and make Third Degree, time which is probably too much, considering the final result.
The element of surprise is missing, not even in the beautiful performance of Casey McPherson, who might be the least known person in the band, however he is the key member and this is more evident where he isn’t the lead vocalist while interacting with Neal Morse. It might be a bit unfair for Morse, since his contribution with the keyboards and in the identity of the compositions is always recognizable, but half of the tracks sound like the other half or at least that’s what is the impression the album leaves us with. On the other hand, the other Morse, Steve, is always a perfectionist and with such a characteristic sound definitely elevates the compositions where they need to, and it seems that he could offer more in the more experimental, adventurous moments of the album, when Flying Colors match their influences and play freely without any specific form.
Ergo, the dominant feeling here is that everything has been heard before or that this album is an amalgam of the previous two. Sure, we have Geronimo, mainly based on the baselines of Dave LaRue, that has some more funk / jazz influences, but that’s it. And yes, this might be deterministic in a portion of the “sound” that is constant in familiar and guaranteed styles, but when this is repeated by such productive musicians in regular intervals, this leads to a trivial perception. And this could be overlooked if the really good songs (The Loss Inisde, More, Last Train Home) where many more than the mediocre / indifferent songs, but something like that isn’t true. For sure, the more commercial aspect leads to more radio friendly forms according to the old requirements of the industry, but how many tasteless ballads will define the flow of these albums? Maybe that’s the “taste” that Third Degree leaves. Α creeping melodic acoustic touch, ready to invade the compositions and transform them into ballads, leading to a inhomogeneous and mediocre third album.
6 / 10
After listening to the third album of Flying Colors, two questions emerge: a) is the flawless performance enough for a prog album? b) how does the exhaustive finish help in a musically eclectic album? Seven years after the quite hopeful Flying Colors and five years after the less daring Second Nature, Third Degree confirms the “curse” of most InsideOut bands. It’s true that once again the combination of the symphonic with the alternative (Muse) prog that is presented here (again) is interesting, that however is diminished during the listening sessions. The procedurality and the complete absence of “danger” dominate from start to finish and the level of the compositions is realtively low, with the exceptions (The Loss Inside, Geronimo, Crawl) not being enough to elevate the whole. The performance of everyone is great as expected, with probably Steve Morse shining the most, while Casey McPherson still shows that has a very interesting voice. In this case, the answer to the first two questions is “not at all”.
5 / 10