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Class E

Main Category: Roots Rock
Also applicable: Pop Rock
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Traveling Wilburys fanatic (are there any hardcore TW fanatics in this world, anyway?) and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Traveling Wilburys fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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A short-lived historical stunt of little overall importance. What happened is that one day five cosmic rock veterans by the names of George Harrison (hooray), Bob Dylan (terrific), Roy Orbison (who would have guessed), Tom Petty (who cares) and Jeff Lynne (could be much worse) got together and, after finding out that they all (a) knew how to play a musical instrument, (b) wanted to have a good time and (c) were tired of vanity and popularity, decided to form this ridiculously titled 'supergroup' and record an album or two. Instead of going for the biggies, though, they stuck to playing short, guitar-full, simple and catchy pop/country/boogie-woogie tunes, with a little injection of a Harrisong or a Dylan storyline now and then, and ended up sounding a lot, a lot better than most of their contemporaries did around 1988 when the first album was released. It's just a joke, of course, certainly unsubstantial and dismissable, but it's a qualified joke, and I'm glad that I have the possibility to review this little record. Its followup, released three years later with Orbison already dead, wasn't as successful or entertaining, which is perfectly understandable considering that sequels to jokes usually fare worse than the originals, but it's still decent. They never reconvened after that, which is also understandable - the band was a purely 'technical' one, serving as a bridge between the cheesed-out, flaky Eighties and the Revivalist early Nineties. That is to say, by the early Nineties the guys understood that they could now easily do without each other - Roy was dead, Bob turned himself back to his roots, and George embarked on a successful tour of Japan or whatever. But, 'technical' or not, these two records are still harmlessly funny, and, let's face it, you don't often see George Harrison or Bob Dylan pulling out harmless, almost aimless funny ditties these days - come to think of it, you'd hardly fall upon the word 'ass' in a George Harrison song as you do in 'Wilbury Twist'... so come on, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the 'Traveling Wilburys', heigh-ho!


VOL. 1

Year Of Release: 1988
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 11

Probably the grooviest (and certainly most commerically succesful) mystification in rock history.


Track listing: 1) Handle With Care; 2) Dirty World; 3) Rattled; 4) Last Night; 5) Not Alone Any More; 6) Congratulations; 7) Heading For The Light; 8) Margarita; 9) Tweeter And The Monkey Man; 10) End Of The Line.

A fun record! The tunes might not be groundbreaking or eye-opening, but does that really matter when you're dealing with a fun record coming from several musical (and lyrical) geniuses? And the arrangements are good throughout as well - although Jeff Lynne does bring in some elements of his producing style, such as the booming drums and echoey vocals that he used to infest solo Harrison records with (and that he nearly ruined 'Free As A Bird' seven years later with, too), they're not featured on all the songs: the album is pretty diverse for such a presumably unimaginative setting. The three main contributors are Harrison, Dylan and Orbison, while Petty and Lynne usually stay in the background - they do have an occasional vocal or two, but the record does not really belong to them. So essentially it sounds like a cross between George's Cloud 9, Dylan's Desire and Orbison's Greatest Hits or something (since I don't know the man's album names). George contributes a couple of 'heavier' numbers, both musically and lyrically. The lead-off single 'Handle With Care' is particularly good, with George again engaging in some wordgames ('Expectations changeable/Situation's tolerable/But baby you're adorable') that he proved himself a fan of starting from 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', and it also has a strong, very Cloud 9-ish melody that ain't cheesy at all. 'Heading For The Light' is somewhat weaker, but you'll enjoy it nevertheless if you ever liked Cloud 9. However, these same two tunes are probably the less Wilbury-ish: while Dylan, for example, really concealed himself behind the image of a Wilbury, George made no effort to change or alter his style on this record (only the lyrics are less serious), proving himself to be the less adaptable... but is this really a problem? Guess not, and, anyway, I'm a big fan of his Cloud 9 style, so count me happy.

Bob distinguishes himself with the great story song 'Tweeter And The Monkey Man', unarguably one of his finest compositions in that dark and insecure period of his. Of course, the very idea that he might have been saving his best material for a record like this might sound hilarious, but if you remember that this very year he'd released Down In The Groove, it might not be as laughable any more. Anyway, 'Tweeter' is a fine story, in the vein of 'Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts', but maybe even more interesting cuz it's done with a hell of a lot more passion and energy. Even the chorus ('And the walls came down...') that pops in every now and then contributes a lot to the gloomy, micro-apocalyptic atmosphere of the tune that does borrow a lot from 'Hurricane' but ain't nowhere near as straightforward as that one was. However, if you think that Bob was, as usual, contributing his tired-of-life, sick-of-the-world vibe, you're mighty wrong: there aren't enough sick and tired songs on here to fill even an EP. Like, 'Congratulations' might be considered a sad song (it's a little bit in the Street Legal mood, if you get my drift), but 'Dirty World' is a pure comedy bit, with the rest of the band engaging in a nonsense-filled 'dialogue' with Bob.

And if that's heavy content for you, you might be distracted by the little piece of Jerry Lee Lewis boogie, 'Rattled', apparently driven by Orbison, or the folkish send-ups 'End Of The Line' (kind of a band anthem) and 'Last Night'. A couple of numbers, like the operatic 'Not Alone Any More', and the faceless, half-instrumental 'Margarita' might be considered throwaways, but in a certain sense, the whole record is one large, big fat throwaway - but that's what makes it charming, actually. For some strange reason, it does not receive as much adoration as I'd suppose it should, though. I mean, c'mon - it's records like this that really triggered the short-lived, but fruitful Old Masters Revival Movement of the late Eighties - early Nineties! A return to basic roots like that is just what rock music needed at the time, being almost totally dehumanized and mechanized in the filthiest musical decade of the century. And it was also a good step for Bob at the right time, in particular: who knows, maybe without this record there'd be no Time Out Of Mind at all.


VOL. 3

Year Of Release: 1990
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 9

They took it less to heart here, so it also sounds more artificial and generic. Still fun, though.


Track listing: 1) She's My Baby; 2) Inside Out; 3) If You Belonged To Me; 4) The Devil's Been Busy; 5) 7 Deadly Sins; 6) Poor House; 7) Where Were You Last Night; 8) Cool Dry Place; 9) New Blue Moon; 10) You Took My Breath Away; 11) Wilbury Twist.

Not as good, really, but, like I said in the intro, mainly because it's a sequel, and sequels are always inferior. The lack of the deceased Roy Orbison might also have been a contributing factor, but, seeing as to I'm not exactly sure of the amount of efforts he really put in that first album, I wouldn't want to make any special judgements. As it is, the remaining members tried to sweeten up the pill with some newly-invented gags, like titling the album Vol. 3, for instance, thus creating the illusion of the existence of a Vol. 2 (which NEVER was and NEVER will be, mind you), or changing the pseudonyms of the band members as if the Wilburys were a whole nation, not just a family, and the album represented 'Wilbury music' just like other albums represent 'British music' or 'Maroccan music'. This is all fun and extravagant, of course, but it just don't really detract your attention from the fact that the music doesn't sound as captivating or surprising as the one on Vol. 1.

Truth is, this record is a wee bit more 'conventional', as one might call it. Again, it's dominated by Dylan and Harrison compositions, but they are really no longer working for pure fun. And thus, George's 'You Took My Breath Away', for instance, sounds just like a typical mediocre Harrisong - in fact, it's even a retread of his Cloud 9 style, if you don't count the title, of course, almost coinciding with Cloud 9's 'Breath Away From Heaven' (a far superior song, by the way). It's nice, but hardly convenient for a Traveling Wilburys album - I'd expect something more esoteric, really. than a banal pessimistic love song set to a pedestrian countryish melody.

Bob, on the other side, seems to have gone back to his usual self- and others-deprecating stuff in such good songs as 'The Devil's Been Busy' (can anybody tell me what Beatles song this painfully reminds me of?) and such truly mediocre songs as 'Where Were You Last Night'. Good or bad, though, they're conventional - second time around, Bob didn't really care to conceal himself behind anything different from his usual self, and apart from a few lyrical gems (like the line 'Sometimes you think you're crazy/But you know you're only mad'), which are what you'd certainly expect from a decent Dylan lyrical bit anyway, there's nothing here to distinguish these songs from anything Dylan did it in the Eighties - that is to say, there's rarely anything offensive, but never a truly distinguishable point. With one exception, though: 'Cool Dry Place' is an awesome song. Not that it has a great melody - it's just a plain little nice shuffle, but what I really mean is the lyrics because they sound like they come directly from a 1965 or 1966 record: Dylan hadn't really written lyrics like that since 'Highway 61 Revisited' or 'Stuck Inside Of Mobile', so the experience must certainly have been a very nostalgic one. If any of you ever asked yourself the question: 'was Dylan really unable to return to the classic style of the mid-Sixties or did he just intentionally push that style away?', well, your answer is right here! The song could have easily fit on Blonde On Blonde, even if not in the position of a masterpiece. However, Bob was probably treating this stuff as throwaway, while elevating the real garbage to the status of 'real soul reflection'. Pity, that. However, it's also the kind of thing that redeems the album: you want your good old Bob? Well then, throw away that Down In The Groove shite and get your Traveling Wilburys out, I say!

The definite good news is a couple of pseudo-hard rockers that the Wilburys probably decided to throw in in order to break their image as country sissies. As it is, they sound unexpectedly good on these numbers, even if Tom Petty is probably the only one of these guys who really knows how to rock out loud (at least, knew - or maybe not?) The album opener 'She's My Baby' is certainly groovy in an ass-kicking way, and the album closer, the anthemic 'Wilbury Twist', is even better. I suppose it was dedicated to the late Orbison, because it's really just a piece of hardened up boogie where all the members one by one hurl out lyrics about this kind of dance - certainly the most difficult in the world. It's also notorious as being the only piece of evidence of George Harrison pronouncing the word 'ass' in a song. Speaking about Krishnaism!


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