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Big In Jamaica: Why Reggae Fans Mysteriously Love Air Supply

Big In Jamaica: Why Reggae Fans Mysteriously Love Air Supply

Posted by Shanelle Weir on August 25, 2014

Last week, English art&b enigma FKA twigs released her much-feted debut album, LP1. Born to a Spanish mother and a father of Jamaican heritage, and raised in the large Jamaican expat community of Gloucestershire, the artist also known as Tahliah Barnett is a backup dancer turned singer/fashion cipher/abstract electronic producer praised by everyone from Pitchfork to the New York Times for her "monumental debut," which makes ephemeral dance music "halt and burn into the sense memories and become permanent." In an underwhelming year for innovative albums, her weirdly elongated neck helps her rise above the pack.

Yet there's a curious moment on the album's lead single, "Two Weeks," that has little to do with the subversive, mysterious, visually disquieting aura she's carefully cultivated. For most of the song, Barnett entwines her breathless mewls of desire with drum programming that skitters away from a tactile beat. It's an exercise in delayed gratification. But near the three-minute mark, as she utters the wanton line "Smoke on your skin to get those pretty eyes rolling / My thighs are apart for when you're ready to breathe in," her voice follows the melodic contours of Air Supply's inescapable 1980 soft-pop schlocker "All Out of Love."

Which makes sense: Is there a more effective song at conveying sensual exhaustion? But for an artist drawing ineffably cool comparisons to Aaliyah, Portishead, and labelmates like the xx, invoking such earworm fluff might be the most head-scratching pop moment of the year. Why would Barnett pay such a tribute to the magnificently corny Aussie duo? For those who fondly revere the '80s without having actually lived through them, the duo of guitarist Graham Russell and lead vocalist Russell Hitchcock seemed to score the soul-crushing sound of Reaganomics (or Thatcherism) itself, with 1980's "Lost in Love" triggering a run of nine Top 10 hits. That breezy pop song wafted weightlessly to the top spot on the U.S. charts, followed later that year by the treacly ballads "All Out of Love" and "Every Woman in the World."

That chart domination continued with pap like "Here I Am" and "Even the Nights are Better," before 1983's "Making Love Out of Nothing at All" (later memorably beaten to a pulp by Bonnie Tyler) mercifully marked the end of the Aussies' radio reign. Yes, from there, outside of radio stations with the word "Lite" in their titles, Air Supply drifted out of the American conscious. Even in New York magazine's recent "The 150 Greatest Schlock Songs of All Time" bonanza, our boys failed to make the cut. "I think Air Supply are schlock, and of course I considered those songs," critic and list-compiler Jody Rosen told me. "I just don't happen to really groove to Air Supply's ballads in the way I do Chicago/Peter Cetera."

Yet in my Caribbean neighborhood in South Brooklyn, the wheat-paste posters tell a far different story. Earlier this summer, amid ads for hip-hop nights and soundsystem clashes, there was a bill for a superstar festival staged in Queens' Roy Wilkins Park featuring island stars like '90s lovers rock crooner Beres Hammond, dancehall toaster Chronixx, and such vintage reggae acts as Marcia Griffiths, Bob Andy, John Holt, and Judy Mowatt. Amid those eight dreadlocked visages, though, were two tanned, cherubic gringos: Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock. For while America has all but abandoned them, Air Supply remain superstars throughout the Caribbean.

 

 

"Radio was all over us when we first started … and then, in 1987, radio refused to play us in North America, and that just spread around the world," Hitchcock told Billboard back in 2011, the year they were one of the headlining acts at the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival. "Jamaica has become a place we want to go back to all the time now, because the audiences are just fantastic."

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