1983–1986: Secret Messages, Balance of Power, disbanding
Jeff Lynne wanted to follow Time with a double album, but CBS blocked his plan on the grounds that a double vinyl album would be too expensive in the oil crisis and as a result, the new album was edited down from double album to a single disc and released as Secret Messages in 1983 (many of the out-takes were later released on Afterglow or as b-sides of singles). The album was a hit in the UK reaching the top 5; but its release was undermined by a string of bad news that there would be no tour to promote the LP, as drummer Bevan was now playing drums for Black Sabbath and bassist Groucutt had left the band during the recording of the album (leaving Lynne to once again record many of the bass parts). Rumours of the group disbanding were publicly denied by Bevan and although Secret Messages debuted at number four in the United Kingdom, it fell off the charts, failing to catch fire with a lack of hit singles in the UK (though "Rock 'n' Roll Is King" was a sizeable hit in UK, the US and Australia) and a lukewarm media response. By 1983 Bevan was expressing a desire to join Black Sabbath permanently and Lynne and Tandy were recording tracks for the Electric Dreams soundtrack under Lynne's name; however, Lynne was contractually obliged to make one more ELO album. Lynne, Bevan and Tandy returned to the studio in 1985 as a three-piece (with Christian Schneider playing saxophone on some tracks and Lynne again doubling on bass in addition to his usual guitar in the absence of an official bass player) to record Balance of Power, released early in 1986. Though the single "Calling America" placed in the Top 30 in the United Kingdom (number 28) and Top 20 in the States, subsequent singles failed to chart. The album lacked actual classical strings, which were replaced once again by synthesisers, played by Tandy.
The band was then rejoined by Kaminski, Clark, and Morgan, adding Martin Smith on bass guitar, and proceeded to perform a small number of live ELO performances in 1986, including shows in England and Germany along with US appearances on American Bandstand, Solid Gold, then at Disneyland that summer.