Serenades and Hand Grenades – Blue Skies For Black Hearts

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Apparently Portland's still the new Bohemia, if you gauge the eclectic music and the popping 'zine scene that continually defines an alternative culture worthy of mass attention. For their part, it's as if Portland's Blue Skies For Black Hearts are trying to reignite the powder keg of British Invasion revivalism that detonated through the early 90s courtesy of The Las, Material Issue and most notably Oasis, Portland’s Blue Skies For Black Hearts has been steadily bringing a sound cultivated from The Beatles as well as the altruistic solo efforts of John Lennon and George Harrison respectively. Adding a bit of Elvis Costello panache and a lot of stoop-side strumming mentality, and Blue Skies For Black Hearts has emerged as one of America’s best hopes for alt rock resurgence. (If that's what you're hoping for.)

Blue Skies For Black Hearts' previous album Love is Not Enough is wonderfully rough around the edges and addicted to both the White Album-era Beatles and the Yoko Ono adoration of late seventies John Lennon. On the latest album, the band still follows the Lennon love trip on songs like “She’ll Follow Me”, “Won’t You Please Stay”, “If I Wanted You Back” and “I Still Wish You Were Around”, but assuredly this group has polished up its act for one of this year’s more feel-good rides, just in the nick of time for a quickly despairing and agitated country that could use the mostly upbeat tempo of this album.

Opening Serenades and Hand Grenades is the song on the hit list of almost every reviewer, “Siouxie Please Come Home”. The sweet and sugary resonance of post-adolescent nostalgia drips all over this song, pining to near-desperation for a return to the days when Siouxie Sioux And Her Banshees were all the rage of the underground, along with The Cure, Echo And The Bunnymen, Bauhaus, The Psychedelic Furs and The Smiths. What’s particularly shrewd about Blue Skies For Black Hearts is the way this affinity for old-school alternative rock is offset with atypical buoyancy instead of wallowing in requiem. For all their clamoring to usher back the alternative scene, the music takes the optimistic road on peppy songs like “A World Without Love”, “Ambition” and “Pretty People” while merging some Lennon with Elvis Costello and even Madness on both “Sweet Valentine” and “Jenny & Steve”.

For the handful of times Blue Skies For Black Hearts slows the pace on Serenades and Hand Grenades, this album is nonetheless largely effervescent in its Lennon-esque reinvention and is a major step forward towards a musical idealism that’s more oftentimes vacant in American music.