Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown is the 2004 album Has Been by everyone’s favourite spaceman, William Shatner, but will this album beam you up, or should it be sent straight to sick bay? Let’s boldly go…
The album opens with a cover of Pulp’s Common People. Here, Shatner delivers it in exactly the way you’d expect him to if you’ve ever seen his version of Rocket Man or Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. His version, with album cohort Ben Folds (of Ben Folds Five), actually sounds alright. Jarvis Cocker’s narrative sits well here, giving him plenty of dramatic moments to build up the lyrical and musical height only to pause and then remember what he was talking about. He’s helped along the way with some vocals from Joe Jackson too. We’re doing good so far.
Next up is It Hasn’t Happened Yet, which opens with a lovely gentle piano sequence of chords, giving away to a wonderfully warm set of guitar and simple drums. William recalls a journey alone through the snow at Christmas, and you’re left imagining the opening sequence to a film where he’s the lead character. The narrative is warm and feels genuinely like he’s saying it only to you. It sounds musically and narratively wonderful.
This is followed by You’ll Have Time, which sounds like you’ve just walked into a late night backstreet bar, with someone quietly playing an organ in the corner. Then, bursting in is William telling you to ‘Live Life!‘ sounding like a hybrid of Frank Sinatra singing That’s Life, and the more sermon-like songs of Nick Cave. He’s joined by backing singers that really lifts the song as it progress. ‘You’re gonna die!‘ and ‘we’re all gonna die‘ he sings proudly like a slightly remorseful boozy Sinatra. It works perfectly.
That’s Me Trying leads in with piano, as Bill tells you he’s ‘got your address from the phonebook‘. Ben Folds takes the chorus vocals, and they’re joined by Aimee Mann. The result is a track that is a delight to listen to.
Up next is What Have You Done? which hardly has any music in it at all, as William tells of how he tries to save a girl from drowning, but fails. It lasts less than 2 minutes. It’s like a captivating audiobook, but written entirely by Shatner, it makes me wonder whether it’s a little autobiographical.
Together follows this, and the pace picks up. There’s bass drum galore, but nothing that dominates the track, allowing Shatner’s intimate narrative to perform the lyrics. It fits perfectly. Musically this song is really good too, courtesy of collaboration with Lemon Jelly.
Up next is the wonderfully soulful Familiar Love, sounding like a luxurious late night romantic slow dance. Again, the beautiful backing singer harmonies really make this sound delightful and from a 1960s era. It’s a beautiful song, and Bill’s vocals sit perfectly on top.
Things take a more up-beat growly guitar direction with next song Ideal Woman. Here, Shatner almost sings, and the song is definitely more rocky and closer to his Common People track, but not quite as good.
Titular track Has Been is up next, and we’re in a Western style track as the track gallops across the desert plains. There’s an element of humour in this track as he sings lyrics like ‘riding on their armchairs‘, and meets a number of fellow cowboys played by the rest of the musicians, including a vocal credit here for Joe Jackson.
William calls in a melée of percussion as he pokes at advertising in I Can’t Get Behind That, sounding like a list of advertisements that he might have rejected over the year. It’s quite a silly track, and Shatner really gets his peeves off his chest along with guest vocals from Henry Rollins.
Real is up next and closes this album. Shatner is joined by vocalist Brad Paisley, who does a wonderful job of the chorus, where he gives a great contrast in vocal range and power, as well as play guitar. The song itself acts as a reminder to Shatner’s fans of his film, TV, and conference appearances, that he’s not actually a starship captain, instead he’s just a real. It’s a really nice song to end the album on.
You’re either going to love or hate this album. William does have a nice, familiar, warm and easy voice in conversation but the catch here is how you will feel when you hear him talking against a backdrop of music.
Only occasionally I found it distracting, and for the majority of the album it feels absolutely right. Ben Folds certainly puts his back into making it sound as good as possible, and I am genuinely surprised to find that I really enjoyed this album.
I had assumed that this album would consist of slightly questionable covers, but aside from Common People, the rest are original tracks that Shatner has written with Ben Folds.
He boldly went there, and it worked.
- POP RESCUE 2019 REVIEW RATING: 4 / 5
- 2004 UK CHART PEAK POSITION: Did not chart.
- POP RESCUE 2019 COST: 99p from an Age UK store.
2 thoughts on “Review: “Has Been” by William Shatner (CD, 2004)”
I only just came across this review, which is why I am commenting so far after the fact. I note this:
“Up next is What Have You Done? which hardly has any music in it at all, as William tells of how he tries to save a girl from drowning, but fails. It lasts less than 2 minutes. It’s like a captivating audiobook, but written entirely by Shatner, it makes me wonder whether it’s a little autobiographical.”
He wrote the song about the death of his third wife Nerine, who drowned after excessive drinking and taking sleeping pills.
I love this CD. It is magnificent.
Thanks KS for that insight. Sadly, that makes perfect sense, and must have been a hard session to record.