Review by Mark Deming
ALL MUSIC GUIDE
Pat Kearns writes sweetly sad pop tunes that are catchy enough that you can't help but wonder why the poor guy can't cheer himself up. As leader of Blue Skies for Black Hearts, Kearns clearly knows how to rock out when he's in the mood — "She'll Follow Me" attests to that — but that doesn't happen all that often on the group's third album, Serenades and Hand Grenades, which is devoted to the more polished and carefully crafted side of their musical personality. Kearns and his bandmates even brought in a horn section and a string ensemble to fancy up tunes like "Jenny and Steve," "Someday There Will Be Better Days," and "Ambition," and while this was produced on an indie budget, Kearns (who runs the studio where this was recorded, PermaPress Recording) clearly knows how to give this music the appearance of a grand scale, and this album sounds impressive indeed. But while Kearns and his cohorts have a knack with a melody and can make them into something in the studio, Serenades and Hand Grenades needs something a bit more, and these songs are missing the bite, wit, or drama that would make them truly hit home. (And despite its title, "Siouxsie Come Home" doesn't appear to be about the former leader of the Banshees, which would have made a nice counterpoint for the very '60s arrangement.) Serenades and Hand Grenades is a superior calling card for Pat Kearns as a producer and engineer, but it doesn't say quite so much for his talents as a songwriter and frontman.