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"WILD YEARS-THE MUSIC & MYTH OF TOM WAITS" BY JAY S. JACOBS

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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Record Reviews > William Shatner

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William ShatnerHas Been (Shout! Factory)

In any discussion of the worst records of all time, someone will mention William Shatner's 1968 jaw-dropper The Transformed Man.  On that vanity record, Shatner emoted (most would say over-emoted) some of the biggest hits of the era, including gonzo versions of "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" and "How Insensitive."  Between the butchered spoken word cover versions, Shatner did some insanely over-the-top self-written soliloquies, obviously attempting futilely to channel Shakespeare. 
 
Well, it has taken thirty-six years to make the follow-up album that no one in the world really thought was needed.  However, Shatner's acting career is back on track with the new Practice spin off Boston Legal, so maybe it is time to repent for his past crimes upon music.  Some of the cooler names of alt rock are on board to lend a hand.  Has Been is produced and mostly co-written by Ben Folds, and includes guest performances by Joe Jackson, Henry Rollins, Brad Paisley, Aimee Mann, Webb Wilder, Jon Auer (of the Posies), Matt Chamberlain (from Tori Amos' band) and Adrian Belew.  So if it was going to fail, it would not be from lack of talent. 
 
What is truly amazing is, this is actually a very good album.  Shatner still makes no pretense towards singing, he recites the lyrics over musical beds that are sometimes tasteful, sometimes rocking, sometimes jazzy and sometimes country. 
 
You know things have changed from the first tune, a cover of Pulp's "Common People."  The first thing you notice is that Shatner has calmed the histrionics, his spoken word performances are mostly rather under-stated and subtle.  By the time rocker Joe Jackson joins in to sing the choruses and final verse, Shatner lets loose a bit, but his more hammy tendencies are overshadowed by Jackson's raw singing.
 
Most other songs also take advantage of Shatner's low-key approach.  "Familiar Love" is a charming old school soul devotional.  "Has Been" is a funny dissection of fame played out to a spaghetti western beat.  "Together" is fusion jazz, while the Brad Paisley duet "Real" would have a real shot at getting on country radio.  "Ideal Woman" is a rocking and surprisingly comic tribute to a longtime relationship.  The lyrics are actually surprisingly good; often funny and off-the-cuff, other times surprisingly touching.  The faux-soliloquies of old are history. 
 
"That's Me Trying" is an extremely poignant monologue of an older man reaching out to the grown daughter he has never known.  Probably the most chilling track is "What Have You Done?" Shatner's near a capella description of the 1999 real-life event where he found his then-wife Nerine dead in their swimming pool. 
 
Shatner is an old hambone, so of course on a few tracks he does approach the overacting lows of his debut album.  Yet, somehow, on the new album, the few times it is used do work in context of the songs.  For example, "You'll Have Time" is a gospel sermon about the inevitability of death.  So, I can sort of buy into the evangelical tone he takes on.  On "I Can't Get Behind That," Shatner and guest singer (and co-songwriter for the track) Henry Rollins spit bile on the problems of modern living.  You can't really be subtle on that.
 
I can't really imagine anyone listening to this album all that regularly just for pleasure, but I have to say it's pretty damned good.  I look forward to Shatner's next album in the year 2040.  (9/04)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 25, 2004.

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Copyright 2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 25, 2004.