Stratocruiser isn't going for style points. That's certainly not to say their mix of bar-band rock and power pop isn't competent; rather, The Spark is as crisply recorded and executed as any of their '70s rock radio influences. But they haven't been trying to impress or innovate, especially in the past. The lack of solos comes compensated by a no-frills, big-hooks mentality that keeps pretense in check.
Stratocruiser's fourth album successfully highlights more nascent psych influences that augment the ringing jangle pop and glammy hard pop of antecedents such as Badfinger and Cheap Trick. Evident in washes of distortion and swirls of guitar, these newer elements add space and depth to their otherwise driving, straight-ahead songs, producing their most arresting music to date. Elsewhere, a few fine, short instrumental interludes add further spice to the album's lyrical arc of obsessive madness. The story imbues a certain flow, and some songs feel stronger for their placement within it, such as the creeping menace of psychedelic blues boogie "Slush," the rising folk-pop exultation of stealing "Somebody's Girlfriend," and the punchy resolution, "Living in the Future Tense." Stratocruiser has always been solid, but this greater eclecticism, increase in musical detail and the overarching conceptual conceit have taken the band from erudite to exciting.
Correction (Oct. 27, 2011): The Spark is released through Zip Records (not self-released).