If nothing else, the Australian rock group Air Supply provides radio programmers with relief from the hard-nosed vitality of much of today's rock. The group has become synonymous with AM mellowness _ a Barry Manilow without the cloying accent or personality; a Bee Gees without the falsettos or dance beat.
Air Supply's new album, NOW AND FOREVER, consists of 10 medium- to slow-tempo tunes, most of them dealing with the more maudlin aspects of love (sample lyric: "In my life where everything was wrong / Something finally went right").
Fortunately, main songwriter Graham Russell has more hooks than a fashion model's closet (listen to "Even the Nights Are Better" and "Two Less Lonely People in the World"). With Russell Hitchcock sharing the vocals, the music is palatable. Harry Maslin's plodding production cushions the melodies, allowing the often agonized vocals to stay front and center; it's pretty, but ultimately vacuous.
A Taste of Honey, which opens for Lou Rawls at the Pavilion on Tuesday, could use some production help as well. LADIES OF THE EIGHTIES is full of danceable tunes weighted down by overly lush orchestrations. Bassist Janice Marie Johnson and guitarist Hazel Payne have some good ideas, but don't seem to find a proper focus this time around.
There's a bit of disco funk ("Sayonara" and "We've Got the Groove"); some sassy preachin' ("Midnight Snack"); and some overwhelmed ballads ("I'll Try Something New" and "Never Go Wrong"). The weakest cut is a stab at country a la Pointer Sisters ("Leavin' Tomorrow"). The group seems most confident behind a big beat of their own making. Next time around, it should spend more energy on the writing. THE ABLUMS: Air Supply -- Now and Forever (Arista AL9587). A Taste of Honey -- Ladies of the Eighties (Capitol ST12173). THE CONCERTS: Air Supply, Wednesday at 7:30 at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. A Taste of Honey (opening for Lou Rawls), Tuesday at 7:30 at the Pavilion.