I’m not sure that quickly following Under the Red Sky with Traveling Wiburys v3 was such a good idea. The two albums were released within a month of each other at the end of 1990, and each was, in its own way, a disappointment relative to the album that preceded it. Just as Under the Red Sky paled in comparison to the near masterpiece that was Oh Mercy, Traveling Wilburys v3 was flat in comparison to the Volume 1 (there is, of course, no Volume 2. Some say that this was a George Harrison joke, others claim that Dylan and the band considered the widely circulating bootlegs to be Volume 2).
Traveling Wilburys Volume 3 demonstrates with absolute precision how great Roy Orbison was. Without Orbison there the band is fundamentally changed. As Orbison wasn’t primarily known as a song-writer, you can see that the songs themselves aren’t in decline here, but the presentation of them is. Jeff Lynne’s production tricks are all the same, the musicianship is rock solid, but the whole thing is just missing that one little thing, and that thing is Orbison’s voice. If you concentrate on a song like “Where Were You Last Night?” you can sort of will yourself into hearing where it should have gone.
To my ears, none of the songs on Volume 3 are as good as the best songs (the singles) from Volume 1. Some of the songs are actually pretty dreadful (“Cool Dry Place”) and others use production and musicianship to paper over ridiculously stupid lyrics. Here is the, I don’t know, ecological fable? that is “The Devil’s Been Busy”:
While you’re strolling down the fairway
Showing no remorse
Glowing from the poisons
They’ve sprayed on your golf course
While you’re busy sinking birdies
And keeping your scorecard
The devil’s been busy in your back yard
It’s no “Desolation Row”, that’s for sure. I do think that it’s funny that an album whose largest potential audience segment was middle-aged, middle-class white guys has an anti-golf song, I guess.
In general, this is an inoffensive album. I can’t imagine mustering the energy necessary to deride it, but there aren’t really any high points either. A song like “New Blue Moon” could have probably been amazing with Orbison singing it (it is really good without him). As Rebecca just noted to me, it sounds as if this is the backing track to the great Roy Orbison song that was never sung – it is missing the crucial piece, and when Dylan steps in to handle the lyrics, well, Dylan is no Orbison, as I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you.
It’s just sort of an unremarkable way to call it quits on the Traveling Wilburys idea.
Here’s “New Blue Moon”, which I think is the best thing on the album: