Review Summary: After such a big album, the band would release a follow-up 2 years later that's actually way better than it has any right to be, making this an underrated gem.
After the big, boisterous, and fantastic "Out of the Blue", it was tough to guess where Jeff Lynne's brains would go next in terms of songwriting--what with that album covering so many themes while also still coming together as something incredible. And while it's understandable that the album may have been a bit overwhelming to some with its 17 tracks, it showed the band at their most diverse, soulful, and big. So, because of this, it's understandable that the next album would inevitably not be as good. And, of course, that's what happened. That does not mean this album isn't great on its own, because it is very underrated. But seeing how the band had some impossibly big shoes to fill thanks to their previous album, it does seem like Lynne and the rest of the band were struggling. So, instead of trying to one-up what they did with "Out of the Blue", they took a lot of what worked in that album, condensed the length to 9 songs instead of 17, and threw in some '70s disco flair. And the results are weird. Even though this album does focus more on disco, it's not exactly what I'd call a full-on disco album, but instead, a pop-heavy rock album--much like the bands previous 2 albums, only this time, cheesier (then again, with this album's awesome cover art, that is to be somewhat expected). That's not necessarily a bad thing, as cheese can be enjoyable if executed properly--heck, that's why Devo is one of my favorite new wave bands of all time. And this album does it well, but not in the way you'd think. Because even though it's cheesier, the band is still very disciplined and music forward, which makes this album enjoyable for a wide audience.
And that's not just from the style, but the music itself. While the album, with the exception of "The Diary of Horace Wimp", is not as adventurous or diverse as what you'd find on "Out of the Blue", there's really nothing on the album that isn't good. Whether it be the catchy and soulful "Shine A Little Love", the raw, heartfelt, and hooky "Confusion", the slow and mature "Need Her Love", the aforementioned story driven and excellent "The Diary of Horace Wimp", the very of-the-era and catchy "Last Train to London", beautiful and sparkly "Midnight Blue", incredibly underrated and hooky "On the Run", the memorable and soulful "Wishing", or the iconic, raw, and hooky "Don't Bring Me Down", every song here hits--and yes, I really did just cover the whole track list. It's an album that, much like a good chunk of the bands previous works, shows the persistence of Jeff Lynne's songwriting, and the fact that with this many albums in and the material is still basically filler-less is very impressive.
However, while that's all well and good, the album still isn't perfect. As stated previously, Lynne and the rest of the band pulled out so many stops for their previous album, that they left no clear direction for their next album whatsoever, which meant that they would undoubtedly struggle with their next release in terms of finding one. So, it seems they just popified what worked and condensed it, and while that didn't ruin the album by any means, it feels much less like a step forward but more of a way to appeal to the audience back when this album released. Still good, but the ambition was lower, what with most of it being already used on their previous album. Plus, I feel the album could have flowed a lot better, too, because while the structure of the album isn't bad, the pacing felt a bit awkward, which also made the album feel a bit uneven.
Aside from that, if you mix the aforementioned great material with the per-usual excellent composition and production, what you've got here is an underrated gem in the ELO discography. It's a great album in an uncomfortable situation, what with it coming right after such a monumental release, as well as there being a lack of any clear music direction. In fact, the fact that it's still this good is almost incredible, what with a lot of follow-ups to amazing albums usually sucking. It focuses on function over flair, because while it's nothing mind-blowing by any means, the music is still great, and the technicalities behind the album is done well. It may not be the band at their best, but it’s far from them at their worst, and is one that I can’t help shine a little love for, as it, despite its shortcomings, don’t bring me down.