It's no secret that I have a love/hate relationship with former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy. After leaving what was probably the best drumming gig one could ask for, he's been embarking on several different projects at once, trying to find some direction for his talents. Generally speaking, his new endeavours have been...less than satisfactory--I have written about my vitriol for some of Portnoy's newer musical projects before. But, I'll admit, I saw Flying Colors as a potential turning point. The lineup was solid and the musical direction seemed fair--maybe this would be the album to get him out of this slump. (Spoiler: it's not.)
It's not like I hate Portnoy as a musician--he's fantastic, literally one of the best at what he does--it's just that nothing he's done since Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment has even come close to the same quality or calibre of either of those bands, and not even an all-star lineup seems able to help him here. To give you an idea of how good this album could have been, Flying Colors has him working with big names like the Morse brothers*, Steve (Kansas, Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse) and Neal (Transatlantic, Spock's Beard, Eric Burdon, Neal Morse), bassist Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, Planet X, backup for tons of solo guitarists), and vocalist Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev). That's as close to a prog rock dream team as you could ask for.
And for everything negative I am about to say about this album, I will say that this is the first Portnoy release in a while where it sounds like he's actually making an effort--unlike Omertà or Cover to Cover, Flying Colors has interesting ideas and a generally solid construction, enough to make me feel like actual thought was put into it. In addition, you can definitely tell that the band members are all having fun playing this music, which goes a long way towards making this music enjoyable.
But that all being said, Flying Colors is still an incredibly sub-par release. Overall, the album just sounds generic and uninspired, like the same vague mix of classic rock and proto-prog that endless amounts of other bands are doing. The songwriting also isn't particularly great nor interesting. It's passable, sure, but unoriginal and without a lot of depth--it sounds like the band should've spent another couple of months tightening up the compositions before they went to record.
Even some of the songs I really want to like just fall flat. For example, the opening surf rocker "Blue Ocean" has the most character on the album, actually displaying the full amount energy and potential this lineup has, and the frantic half-metal of "All Falls Down" is actually pretty engrossing at first blush. But even those songs lose what appeal they had after another listen or two, when their flaws become all too apparent. None of the songs on here have any staying power, so even if you enjoy the first listen, it's an inevitable downward spiral from there. Even the token epic "Infinite Fire" is a solid letdown, and I usually like longer tracks on principle alone.
In fact, most of the album just isn't even worth the first listen--pretty much every track feels cookie-cutter and staid. There aren't any new or surprising ideas, and the ways the band use old ideas aren't particularly exciting or innovative. From formulaic ballads like "Kayla" and "Fool in my Heart" to generally slipshod tracks like "Love is Forever", "Everything Changes" or "The Storm", the songwriting just feels generally rushed, cruddy, and uninspired. And don't even get me started on how terrible the lyrics are--"Forever in a Daze" and "Shoulda Coulda Woulda" make me want to eviscerate my own ear drums.
Like most of Portnoy's new pursuits, this album just feels like he's trying something new--stretching his legs out and getting a feel around--without putting too much thought or effort into the final product. It's more of an exploration than a fully-fledged musical endeavour, as if he's trying a little bit of everything he likes before he decides where he's going next. As such, it's just not really that interesting, but if you're just looking for an okay hard rock album to jam out to, you could do much worse.
* No, they are not actually related.
Recommended if you like: Adrenaline Mob (yes, all five of you who actually bought Omertà.)
4.5 / 10
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