The second (and final) record by the Traveling Wilburys surfaced in 1990, and it was to be titled “Vol. 3”. This is widely thought to be a joke suggested by George Harrison (who was the unofficial leader of the band) to send fans scrambling for an album that never was. We know he did suggest the title, but I believe that it was a two-fingered salute to bootleggers rather than a joke – the amount of “unofficial” Wilburys records that came out after the first volume was unbelievable. And many also consider Tom Petty’s first solo disc (“Full Moon Fever”) to be the “lost” Wilburys album – it was produced by Lynne, and every Wilbury (except for Dylan) collaborated, albeit marginally in most cases.
The fact remains that after a universally-praised record that rejuvenated everybody, this new volume was released. The main difference telling one record from the other? The first time around, the guys were having fun. Now, they were getting down to business. The joviality was somehow missing the second time around. The professionalism remained, and so did the camaraderie. But not the lovable goofiness.
The passing of Roy Orbison surely had a big impact on the band, and the fact that both Dylan and Harrison penned songs that were truer to their ‘80s selves rather than genuine Wilbury music was the tipping point. Songs like “Where Were You Last Night” (Dylan) and “You Took My Breath Away” (Harrison) pointed to each artist’s worst tendencies during the previous decade. And the one joke of the disc was incredibly forced – “Wilbury Twist” had rampant instrumentation but they were trying too hard to revive something that the first time around flowed so effortlessly.
Speaking of rampant volume, the album’s first single (and its first track) was the heavy “She’s My Baby”, a song that always makes me think of Pete Townshend’s “My Baby Gives It Away”, only that the characters in the Wilbury’s song are far, far meaner and darker. The track (which did very well in the charts) also featured Gary Moore on guitar – he definitively had a field day.
Another single to be culled from the album was the excellent “Inside Out”, arguably Dylan’s best moment on the disc, although both “If You Belonged To Me” and “Cool Dry Place” were strong, likeable songs that recalled early glories. For some reason, whenever I play “If You Belonged To Me” I feel an urge to listen to “If Not You”, and “Cool Dry Place” harks back to the writing style of his great trinity of ‘60s albums (“Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde On Blonde”).
I also like Dylan’s “The Devil’s Been Busy” – rather, I like the choruses and the prototypical paradoxes. The rest of the song could vanish in thin air for all I care.
The remaining songs include “Seven Deadly Sins” (by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell), a doo-wop number that will make you smile for a second or two (while the songs on the previous album made you smile from beginning to end), and the superfluous country of “Poor House”.
It is often said that sequels are always inferior. I think that is the direct result of trying to force into being something that had previously manifested itself spontaneously. Don’t get me wrong – “The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3” is not an insignificant album. It is just that the first one was sturdier. And I can assure you that is the one thing you will find yourself thinking once the disc has stopped playing.