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Traveling Wilburys’ Third
By Eric Penzer
The Stony Brook Press — December 6, 1990
Who says you can’t grow old gracefully? The remaining four members of the Traveling Wilburys. The super-group, formed in 1988, is comprised of four middle-aged musicians who, some might say, are past their prime. The Wilburys’ 1988 debut album, Vol. 1, defined the Wilburys’ style as straightforward rock & roll with a country tinge. The album spawned three moderate hits, Handle With Care, Last Night and The End Of The Line. The Wilburys successfully bridged the gap between the sixties, the seventies, and eighties. With their follow-up record, Vol. 3, The Traveling Wilburys attempt to take on the nineties.
Although the actual musicians (Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty) are not credited anywhere on the album, their voices and styles are immediately recognizable. In an attempt to divert some of the media attention away from the musicians and onto the music, the album is attributed to Clayton, Spike, Muddy and Boo Wilbury. As reported in a recent interview, Tom Petty explained that “everybody [in the band] has been burned by supergroups — they’re not usually any good, so we’ve tried to steer away from that label as much as possible.”
Most of the artists who make up the Wilburys are known for their distinctive musical styles (Dylan has his anthems, Harrison his spirituals…). However, the songs that make up Vol. 3 are just cute little “ditties” that were apparently written with little thought or purpose intended. The Wilburys sing on subjects that musicians have always sung about; most notably, women. At least seven of the album’s songs describe women in their “traditional” roles. To the Wilburys, women are apparently things to drool over. She’s My Baby describes the female as a “sex-slave.” In the song If You Belong To Me, the woman is made to sound like a prostitute.
Not all of the songs are about women, though. What else can an old-timer croon about? The environment, of course. Inside Out warns the listener to “take care when you are breathing.” Not very convincing. The Devil’s Been Busy tells us of toxic waste on the golf-course. Activist meets conformist. Perhaps the Wilburys should stick to their sex-oriented songs.
It quickly becomes apparent that the songs on Vol. 3 are not as well-written as those on the debut record. In fact, they sound as if they could have been sub-standard outtakes from Vol. 1. The songs are not bad, just not outstanding. Perhaps the best song on the record, A Cool Dry Place, would probably have been tossed off the first Wilbury release to yield time to any of the other songs on the brilliant debut. The Wilbury Twist tells the listener to “fall on your ass…put your teeth in a glass…” among other things. The men are not ashamed to admit that they are not young anymore. Instead, they pride themselves on their age and experience in music.
The loss of Roy Orbison was a great one for the Traveling Wilburys. On Vol. 1, Orbison’s vocals added some variation and distinction to the music. Several songs on the album cry out for Orbison’s vocals. For that matter, they cry out for any vocal that differs in style from the other four members. Many of the songs on Vol. 3 would have been enhanced by a different vocal style. Seven Deadly Sins, a mock-fifties doo-wop effort, would be a pleasurable listening venture were it not for Bob Dylan’s whiny lead vocals. Even Harrison’s casual vocal style would have been an improvement.
The success of the Wilburys lies in their ability to mock themselves. In this band, the main objective is to have fun. Were the musicians not so well-known, a performance at a neighborhood bar might be a better medium for this material than a record.