Picture Paul Dean, guitarist, vocalist and founding impetus of Loverboy, at his mother's knee. A mild Canadian wind whistles through the lace curtrains and mingles with the cooing and gurgling of Baby Dean. What causes this cherub to smile in toothless wonder, his dimpled knees to dip with delight? Why, Mother is singing -- not nursery rhymes, not ballads, not Brahmsian lullabies, but hooks : chart-topping, heart-stopping, rock'n'roll hooks.

How else to explain Dean's ability to crank out the kind of catchy rock riffs groups like Aerosmith and Foreign would trash their Stratocasters for? Loverboy's self-titled debut album, especially side one, is full of these amazing achievements.

The braggadocio opening track, "The Kid is Hot Tonite," even flexes enough musical muscle to deliver double the hooks ("How do you like me so far?" and the title line). They carom off each other against a bright background of arena-rock, serving as a nice setup for the sleeker, more dynamic "Turn Me Loose," currently doing fairly well as a single.

This tune does a lot to distinguish Loverboy from the usual crop of tin-ears and metallurgists, in that it employs basic musical concepts -- tension and release, crescendos, harmonic layering -- stuff like that. It opens with a sustained synthesizer buzz; bass and keyboards gradually percolate for several measures against this low-voltage hum until -- voila! -- a dark, rich rocker is brewing.

It's pretty much downhill from that point, although cuts like "Always on My Mind and "Little Girl" are tasty enough to hold a listener's interest. Certainly, none of the tracks is objectionable, provided one doesn't get close to the lyrics, and lead vocalist Mike Reno (who also deserves credit for co-writing many of the songs) displays a remarkable restraint rarely encountered in hard-rock circles.

For a band so young (all in their early 20s), Loverboy shows no ambiguity about the style intended: a neat combination of Toto without the lounge-lizard smarm, Van Halen without the shrillness, Ted Nugent sans loincloth and lyrical smut, and all of the above brought down to a decibel level well below the pain threshold.

All of which makes their choice of cover art doubly unfortuante: a nail-painted, lipsticked, androgynous creature presumably meant to cash in on new-wave sensibilities, but whom I suspect is responsible for "Loverboy's" sluggishness on the charts. A cover like this one would be great for, say, Adam and the Ants or David Bowie, but it hardly reflects the blustery heterosexuality of this groups songs. Besides, what would Paul Dean's mother say?

THE ALBUM -- Loverboy, Columbia (JC 36762).; THE SHOW -- Thursday at 8 at the Bayou.