I don’t know ELO much at all, though I know a lot of Jeff Lynne’s work as a producer (which I hate). I first read about the band in the first music book I ever owned, but I never got around to listening to them in part because when I first consciously encountered their singles as an adult I knew it wasn’t for me. I’ve only ever heard one other ELO record prior to this one, and that was very recently. So this is along way of saying I can’t comment on this record and whether or not it’s a change of pace given that change in the band. (I will say it doesn’t sound that different to me.)
To the extent that I know ELO I know them as “progressive” or “arty” in only the vaguest sense. It’s like they think Mozart is the best composer and the only one known to the general public and they think that a reference to a composer’s music (especially one that’s a little less famous than Mozart) means they’re super, super sophisticated. Those references, which were plenty on the one earlier record of theirs I’ve heard, are less here, but there is still the occasional air of “We listen to sophisticated stuff so this must be sophisticated!”
But it’s just pretty pop catchy, sometimes with strings or keyboards or vocals that reference art music tangentially. There is also a distinct disco vibe on a number of tracks, adding a boring, metronomic pulse to some of the songs, making them seem even less arty than they already did. It’s basically just pop and, occasionally, disco pop in fancy clothes. If that works for you, that’s great. But it sure doesn’t work for me.
But for all his faults as a producer, a faux sophisticate, and a Beatles-wannabe who seems to ignore half their music, Lynne can write hooks. This is an extremely catchy record even if I don’t like it. So I have to give it that. It takes talent to write this many songs which are this catchy. He’s good at that. It doesn’t make me want to listen to them ever again, but it’s something.