Friday, December 12, 2008

William Shatner: Has Been?

A man in his prime? Maybe.

William Shatner sure is a busy boy. He's always doing something. He's even going to receive his own talk show. I'm surprised it took them that long to consider giving him a shot. I mean the man is vocal. He always has something to say. Like 'em or hate him he has an opinion. You know what they say about opinions. Yes, they're like assholes and everyone has one. Well, rest assured Bill Shatner has been referenced as such and probably worse along the way. Just ask George Takei a.k.a. Sulu. Certainly some of Bill's castmates do not look upon the man as fondly as say, um, me.

I love William Shatner. The man is a genius. He has a gift for the camera and he uses it wherever he can. Still, put him behind the microphone and the results can vary. It's not that he gets behind it so much as a singer, but to provide that niche genre of music referred to as the Spoken Word Album. You'll recall The Transformed Man [1968]. Perhaps, if you're lucky you don't recall or you won't. Quite frankly it's terrible. It was his first ditch attempt at something unique and different, but in the end fails miserably. Whether it's Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds or Mr. Tambourine Man they just stink! In fact, they haven't aged well either. They sound like rejects from a Rankin Bass Christmas special. You hear them and you just cringe.

Spaced Out: The Very Best Of Leonard Nimoy & William Shatner [1997] is a reissue of those early recordings from Mr. Nimoy and Mr. Shatner. I'd love telll you that Nimoy's work is seasoned and more accessible than Shatner's, but alas I am here to say, Nimoy's selections are God awful as well. They just suck! Although it is notable that the Ballad Of Bilbo Baggins seems to be a huge hit on Itunes as a popular favorite with The Lord Of The Rings set no doubt. All of our fellow Fantasy genre geeks come out of the woodwork for that inspired gem of dreck. Ech!

William Shatner recently lended his Vocal/ Spoken Word hand to Exodus [2008]. It is a classical Oratorio in three parts credited to William Shatner, David Itkin, The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Paul Rowe. The choral orchestrations are lovely, with nothing to over-the-top from Mr. Shatner here. It is passable in my humble opinion.

Shatner also lent a hand to a couple of tracks for Brian Evans Live [2006]. Lady Is A Tramp and What Kind Of Fool Am I? are trademarks in Shatner's more contemporary, irreverent style. Still, nothing too impressive here if you're a Shatner fan. The only worthwhile turn in this vein came to fruition a few years earlier.

William Shatner struck just the right cord when he got involved with Ben Folds [formerly of Ben Folds Five] for Has Been [2004]. This recording took me completely and utterly by surprise. It is a work of pure genius. It's a credit to Ben Folds too because he's the only man that has been able to tap raging energy of Shatner at his best within the Spoken Word concept Shatner seems to enjoy so much. Shatner absolutely delivers and the recording is an amazing, varied, pop masterpiece. The writing is fantastic and no doubt Ben Folds was behind some of it. I know very little about Ben Folds by the way. At times, the recording drips with irony, sometimes tenderness, sometimes scathing humor, self-mockery, pain and much more. There is nothing cringe-worthy here in the way The Transformed Man had you cowering for your binky. Listen, if The Transformed Man was a guilty pleasure and you are definitely guilty if you are out there, this is not. There is nothing about this recording that you need be ashamed of for liking. The One To Be Pitied would beg to differ of course. A friend of mine also fails to appreciate the inspiration found in the work as I did. It is a rich collection of songs that even benefits from guests Aimee Mann, Joe Jackson and the insane Henry Rollins. There's something about this collection. It just works. William Shatner delivers like some mad uncle that visits after a few stiff vodkas and just starts ranting and going off. Still, he is such a sympathetic character in his delivery here you'll be hard pressed not to be won over. You will be overwhelmed by emotion thanks to his impassioned way with the word, the spoken word. Talk about self-effacing brilliance. This guy literally tears himself down, or plays into the stereotypes for a laugh, or breaks them down with heartwrenching honesty. I don't know how he did it, but producer/ arranger Ben Folds brings out a classic William Shatner fronted recording. You need to hear this recording to believe it. When that's done you'll listen to it again and again for every little nuance of emotion you can ring out of every word and melody. Oh and that voice, it's a winner behind the microphone here.

Highlights are in bold, but as a whole this thing is rock solid. The tracklisting for Has Been is as follows:

  • Common People [A scorching remake of a Pulp track]
  • It Hasn't Happened Yet [a genuinely introspective heartbreaker]
  • You'll Have Time [outrageous commentary on death]
  • That's Me Trying [Shatner reaches out to a daughter after failing as a father]
  • What Have You Done
  • Together
  • Familiar Love
  • Ideal Woman
  • Has Been
  • I Can't Get Behind That [with Henry Rollins on societal insanity]
  • Real [duet with country singer Brad Paisley]

    So don't forget to, as William Shatner puts it, "live life, like you're gonna die, because you're gonna'." So, Shatner, a has been? I don't think so.
Has Been: A

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