When the first Flying Colors album was first announced, I knew there was a fair chance I was going to like it since it was made up of the most of my favorite musicians (I am sure I’m not alone). Of course, it turned out to be better than I could have expected and remains a staple in my car and on my iPod. Between all the band members, many Prog fans, including myself, own what might comprise 50-60 albums and that’s just a guess. So to get another chance to hear new music from this supergroup is surely something to get excited about. In this particular case, they have yet again exceeded expectations. They have made an album that surpasses the debut. In many ways, it might be more like the album fans were expecting when this group of musicians got together. The songs are longer, proggier, heavier at times and seem to have more of each member’s own distinct imprint than on the first album. There are songs that sound more Neal (Open Up Your Eyes), more Steve (One Love Forever) and more Mike (Mask Machine) with, of course, each member’s influence creeping in. Casey McPherson and Steve Morse are the featured musicians here. While Neal does sing at certain points, Casey does most of the heavy lifting and masterfully. And Steve’s influence is heard throughout the album as well, not only as a incredible lead player but as a songwriter. Second Nature is an album that keeps sounding new and with each listen draws you in more, combining all the elements of what great music should be.
Where the first album might have had a more spontaneous vibe to it like with the opening of Blue Ocean, this album seems more deliberate. The band have spoken about the first album being like a blind date, where they were sort of seeing how it would go. It seems like they have figured out their strengths and now where to put their focus. With the opening track, “Open Up Your Eyes,” they claim their own unique sound and with authority. The 12 minute track is something only this group of musicians could write and pull off. It combines the all-out Prog of Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy and with instrumental virtuosity of Steve Morse and Dave LaRue with the brilliant melodies and accessible vocals of Casey McPherson. It is the band’s most powerful track to date and one that should be incredible live. It opens with an unmistakable Neal piano melody which leads into a Transatlantic-like overture before landing firmly into what becomes a great song with a great hook and of course, many twists and turns before reaching an epic ending. Prog at its finest.
The band could easily do 6-7 songs like the opening epic, but that is what makes this band even more of a standout. Songs like “Mask Machine” and the album’s 3rd track “Bombs Away” are both solid rock tracks that allow the members to show off musically while maintaining a straight forward rock feel. “Mask Machine” is aggressive and uptempo, while “Bombs Away” has a very Deep Purple pounding beat to it. The highlight of the track is the section following the chorus where Casey’s voice is allowed to soar above Neal’s strings. And Portnoy’s drum fills here are as powerful and massive as ever.
“The Fury of My Love” is a beautifully written piano ballad that turns into a power ballad midway through. Probably the finest ballad the band has produced yet, it has a classic Queen feel to it and an Epic chorus. However, the climactic McCartney-esque ending is the ultimate payoff here. It makes this one of the best songs in the album and in any normal time, an enormous radio hit.
The band then return to their Prog backgrounds with “A Place in Your World” which kicks off with a classic Steve Morse riff accented with Neal Morse’s own style. For those that have listened to many Steve Morse solo albums, you can hear is influence throughout the album, but this is one of the songs where it is more front and center. His unique sound works brilliantly with this group of musicians and in these type of songs. Another one of the highlights on the album. You can hear the enjoyment on this song and a group not holding back.
“Lost Without You” is the album’s purest pop song. One of the shorter songs, the harmonies in the chorus are perfect as is the electrifying guitar solo. It is one of the songs that easily could have fit on the first album. “One Love Forever” kicks off with another Steve Morse riff, this time acoustic and quickly adds some folk elements in the verses. The entire band shine here through the instrumental parts. “Peaceful Harbor” is a calm dramatic song that begins softly building on Casey’s exquisite vocals. It then builds and builds and builds with a full choir and strings and is the album’s emotional masterpiece.
The album closes on what would seem to be another long Epic Prog track but while it clocks in at almost 12 minutes, “Cosmic Symphony” is not your standard Portnoy-Morse Prog track. There are minimal instrumental pyrotechnics here. The song has three distinct sections and each one flows seamlessly into the next while really focusing on the vocals throughout. It is a different type of track and one that adds another layer to this multifaceted group. The opening section, “Still Life of the World” features a Dave Larue bass solo and while “Searching for the Air” has Neal in front vocally, but it is the closing section of “Pound for Pound” which makes this the perfect closing for this album. It is perhaps my favorite part that Casey sings because it shows just how important having a voice like his is for a band and a song like this. He adds a feel and emotion that music like this can sometimes be accused of lacking.
There isn’t much more to say about an album so Epic in its writing, performance, musicianship, and emotion. Having listened to this album now a few hundred times, I can easily say it is “one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time.” This is a band that needs to stay together and continue to put out music. Here’s hoping they do.
Release Date: September 30th US, Mascot Label Group
Key Tracks: Open Up Your Eyes, Fury of My Love, A Place in Your World
1. “Open Up Your Eyes” 12:24
2. “Mask Machine” 6:06
3. “Bombs Away” 5:03
4. “The Fury of My Love” 5:10
5. “A Place in Your World” 6:25
6. “Lost Without You” 4:46
7. “One Love Forever” 7:17
8. “Peaceful Harbor” 7:01
9. “Cosmic Symphony 11:46
I. “Still Life of the World”
II. “Searching for the Air”
III. “Pound for Pound”
- Flying Colors
- Steve Morse – lead and rhythm guitar
- Casey McPherson – lead vocals
- Neal Morse – keyboards, vocals
- Dave LaRue – bass guitar
- Mike Portnoy – drums, percussion, vocals