Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Listener's Guide To Air Supply Studio Albums: Part 1, Life Before Clive!


I've always had a bit of a light-hearted love-hate relationship with the Australian band Air Supply, whose run of massive U.S. hits in the '80s remains fresh in one's mind since 4 out of 5 radio stations favored by dentists' offices to this day continue to play their music.

Songs like "Here I Am", "Even The Nights Are Better", "Lost In Love", "Every Woman In The World", and "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All", just to name a few, rank as some of the most overplayed songs in radio history, thus meaning that few of us ever really hear a popular Air Supply song anymore so much as subconsciously deflect it for fear of annoying ourselves and/or loved ones by singing the darn thing for the rest of the day while we run errands.

Thing is, for all of the millions of singles and albums sold over the years, has anyone ever listened to an Air Supply album all the way through? I ask only because I can't possibly be the only one who imagines that your typical Air Supply fan seems like the sort of person who buys an album and then only listens to the songs they hear on the radio.

Being a fan of deep cuts, myself, I suddenly found myself thinking "What does an Air Supply deep cut actually sound like? 


Air Supply - self-titled (1976)

Had this album been released in the U.S., I can see myself overlooking it based solely on their resemblance to one of the many faceless UK prog bands a la Gentle Giant or Curved Air. Musically, there are no prog leanings to be found, but the band does try out a lot of different musical styles in a search for something resembling an identity.

First single "Love & Other Bruises" is an unremarkable string-laden ballad that inexplicably went Top 10 in Australia, but their next two singles would miss the Top 40 altogether. 

One can't help wonder how things might have been different had they released the peppy "What A Life" or the Doobies-adjacent "Secret Agent", both of which feature lead vocals from main songwriter Graham Russell instead of Russell Hitchcock. The album closes on a passable, albeit forgettable note with by-the-numbers disco cut "Ain't It A Shame".

Best track: What A Life
Rating: 4 on a 10 scale

The Whole Thing's Started (1977)

Released only seven months after their debut, this album boasts more piano-driven balladry than the debut, but most of the material seems half-baked, although the then-struggling band ends their album on a ballsy note with the aptly-titled "The End of The Line", which boasts a prog-worthy bridge highlighted by a Keith Emerson-worthy Moog synth solo.  

Best track: The End of The Line
Rating: 2/10

Love And Other Bruises (1978)

While in the States on tour with Rod Stewart, it is decided that the band should perhaps have some product in the stores, as their first two albums were not released in North America. Stewart's producer, Jimmy Horowitz is given a budget by Columbia Records to hire sessions players with which to re-record a number of selections from the band's first two albums, along with two new tracks, so that all Russell and Hitchcock have to do is record their vocals. Not utilizing their own band, with whom they were on the road at the time, causes such friction within the band that original bassist Jeremy Paul quits in disgust. Only the re-recorded version of "The End of The Line" seems to improve upon the original. The album's lack of success ends their relationship with CBS Records.

Best track: The End of The Line
Rating: 5/10

Life Support (1979)

Judging by the title of their fourth album, and first for Big Time Records, the boys still have a sense of humor after two albums that have thus far failed to dent the charts in any meaningful way.

Based on the original cover, which, to this day, confounds our sensibilities, one would think the band was moving in a new wave direction, but lead off cuts "Give Me Love" and "Looking Out For Something Outside" are the same old song and dance that didn't work at CBS.

However, the album's third track, "Lost In Love" is a game changer, although the band doesn't know it just yet. 

The original recording of what would later become their first U.S hit single features a vocal performance by Russell Hitchcock (the bloke with the dark hair) that can melt asphalt and outshines the hit version, yet the synth arrangement and female backing vocals here recalls 10cc's "I'm Not In Love", which is great for those of us who love that sort of thing. Of course, part of the fun of hearing this original version is trying to figure out what made Clive Davis do a double-take and sign the band just to get his hands on this song.

Funny thing is, the song that sounds like an "emphasis cut" is "More Than Natural", which, beneath the less-than-evocative title, is actually a credible Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles detour with an ear worm chorus that truly makes you wonder why the band never went back to it once they broke big in the States. 

Meanwhile, "Bring On The Magic" and "I Don't Want To Lose You" boast soaring choruses atop musical arrangements where one can actually hear a distorted guitar or two. I kid you not! Does that make this the band's guitar album?

Album closer "Believe In The Supernatural" rises above a dreadful title with soaring harmonies and enough Marshall-driven riffage to give Styx or Toto (pre-"Rosanna") a run for their money, so make that a solid Yes (and Howe, har har!).

Best track: More Than Natural
Rating: 6/10

TO BE CONTINUED!

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