Air Supply has a lot to celebrate this year.
2010 marks the 35th year that founding members Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock have been making music together, dating back to when they were unknown singers and actors in a production of Jesus Christ, Superstar and continuing through performances in coffeehouses back in Australia.
Air Supply went on to world-wide fame with a string of hit love ballads, beginning with "Lost in Love" and including "All Out of Love", "The One That You Love", "Every Woman in the World", "Here I Am", "Just As I Am", and a dramatic rendition of Jim Steinman's "Making Love Out of Nothing At All".
Those songs have remained pop radio standards. In fact, Air Supply recently received an award from BMI for three million plays of "All Out of Love", its third such song to be honored. That translates to a span of continuous radio airplay of 17 1/2 years. Now, THAT is heavy rotation.
Air Supply returns to Penn's Peak Friday night, but this time, it has something new to offer.
That would be Mumbo Jumbo, Air Supply's first album of all-new material since 2002, which has just been released on the Las Vegas based Odds On label.
The lead single, "Dance With Me", has hit the pop chart, breaking a long absence for an act that used to chart its singles with regularity.
"We just came in the Billboard charts for the first time in 20 years, and we're thrilled with that, especially with this being our 35th anniversary," said Graham Russell in a phone interview from his Utah home. "Things are looking great for us.
"We haven't had a new studio album for eight years, so we thought it was time for us to do something original, and we did. It's a concept album, although all the songs will stand up on their own. Together they form this very simple story."
Because of Air Supply's busy touring schedule, it took awhile to put together the album.
"It took us about 2-3 years to record it because we play so many live shows we don't have the luxury of spending six months in the studio. We finally finished it about a year ago," mentioned Russell.
The concept might appear unusual for fans used to Air Supply's normal song fare, but it's a credit to Russell's songwriting skills that the final result transcends that.
"I think it's the best record we've ever made, and fortunately, Billboard agrees with us, and we're thrilled with it," remarked Russell.
"There are some different songs on there that we think everyone will like, plus there's the typical Air Supply sound, which has become something of a staple now, especially on songs like "Hold On". The single, "Dance With Me", is really different for us, and people are really getting into it, saying, I didn't know that was Air Supply."
Russell admits to a diverse musical taste, mentioning his love for techno music, and he and Hitchcock demonstrate they can mix things up a bit without straying far from the recognizable Air Supply sound.
"We've always had the ability to do different things, but it's just that for so many years, we've been associated with big ballads," said Russell. "There are a lot of other sides to us that we're just beginning to show a little bit now."
"Dance With Me" is a catchy midtempo number that on the album features a long piano coda that takes awhile before it finally fades out.
"We did it live in the studio, with no overdubs," explained Russell. "Everybody just kept playing, and we never put an ending on it. It sounded so refreshing when we heard it back, and we felt we had to keep it, at least for the album. It was edited for the single, but for the album it was nice to have something raw and live."
As for the album's main theme, the story is revealed in the opening song, "Setting the Seen".
"It's a strange first song for an album, but it's a concept album, and it's the song that sets everything up and lets everyone know what is happening with the story," said Russell. "This young man is leaving, and his mother is going to say goodbye, and he leaves all his friends to go out into the world, and he meets two people called Sam and Sara, and they are from another dimension. They become friends, and he falls in love with Sara. So in one song, it sets the whole idea up. Once that's over, we feel the listeners will know roughly what is going on, and we can start the album."
Air Supply has been opening its live shows with a segment from "Setting the Seen", which is one of six new songs in the current setlist. Russell admits that is an unusually high number of new songs but commented that the band has been road testing them for the past year.
"The album and the live show are reflections of one another," he remarked.
While Air Supply has taken some chances with Mumbo Jumbo, it hasn't abandoned the approach that has made it successful; it has updated it.
"We try to make it not sound like Air Supply, because it's going to, anyway, so we tried to change things up a bit," remarked Russell. "We can't make an album that sounds like it did in the 80's, and we wouldn't want to do that. We'd get killed for it. We've already made those records, and it would be like making the same record. The reviews and reaction we've gotten to this new record have been good so far."
That kind of success never gets old, even after 35 years in the business.
"When we got back on the charts, it was the same thrill for me as when 'Lost In Love' became our first hit," mentioned Russell.
Air Supply will perform at Penn's Peak on Friday, May 21 at 8 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $35 for premium reserved seating and $30 for regular reserved seating and are available on-line at www.ticketmaster.com , at Ticketmaster outlets Boscov's and Gallery of Sound, at the Penn's Peak box office and Roadies Restaurant. Call 1-866-605-PEAK for more information.