William Shatner’s new album hits stores today. Thanks to the internet I was able to listen to it over the weekend. Lucky for you, I listened to it so that you don’t have to.
For the Shatner impaired, Bill Shatner is an octogenarian actor who achieved his greatest fame portraying a spaceship captain on a TV show. He’s had a long and mostly successful career in television, movies and commercials. He’s also dabbled in music, where he has not been as successful.
Shatner’s musical talent is to speak song lyrics — not sing them — in a unique style that is all his own. Some people find it amusing, but not many people, as his first studio album was released in 1968 and his second came out in 2004.
That second album, Has Been, was surprisingly entertaining. I have a review of it somewhere in the archives. Working with the great musician Ben Folds, the album features mostly original compositions written by Folds and Shatner. The songs were often autobiographical and ran the gamut from humor to melancholy to tragedy. It’s a really fine album, highlighted by a cover of “Common People” in which Shatner exchanges vocals with Joe Jackson.
So I had high hopes for his new release — Seeking Major Tom. Sadly, Ben Folds has left the building and he took with him whatever originality and spark that Has Been had. Seeking Major Tom is a sometimes fun, often uninspired collection of covers — mainly songs with a space or sci-fi theme.
For the Major Tom impaired, Major Tom was a fictional astronaut created by David Bowie in his 1969 song Space Oddity. Major Tom was so popular that Bowie used him again in a few other songs and other artists have also jumped on the Major Tom bandwagon. Shatner has brought many of those songs together for this album, along with such space-influenced songs as “Space Cowboy,” “Walking on the Moon” and “Rocket Man.”
Like before, Shatner has teamed up with a number of notable musicians, including Peter Frampton, Dave Davies, Brad Paisley and Sheryl Crow (He wisely sits out adding vocals to Crow’s tune). The results are mixed. I enjoyed his versions of Major Tom, Space Oddity, Spirit in the Sky and a few others. My favorite had to be Space Truckin’, a horrible Deep Purple song from the ’70s that Shatner redeems with his impassioned “C’Mon’s!”
There are some misfires — I’m sure someone thought it would be hilarious to hear Shatner’s version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, but they are two of the weaker tracks on the albums.
That’s right, I said albums. Seeking Major Tom is a 2-CD, 20-song collection that runs over an hour and a half. And that is the album’s greatest problem: That’s just too much Shatner. I can’t imagine Has Been sold so well that someone thought this was a good idea.
If you cut this down to the 10 best songs it would be a decent release. But it’s a one-joke gimmick that can’t hold up for 90 minutes. It took me three sittings to get through it once. To make matters worse, he makes the collection even longer by tacking on needless snippets of Major Tom/Space Oddity to the end of several of the songs.