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Non-Prog CD Reviews

William Shatner

Has Been

Review by Gary Hill

I have to confess to being a huge Star Trek fan. That is what drew me to William Shatner's first CD, The Transformed Man, all those years ago. The disc was really a disappointment. While they were attempting to create a very artistic and rather psychedelic musical expression what they got was a collection that was so bad it was funny. Well, now many years later another record label took interest in having Shatner record an album. The result is Has Been, and it is his vindication for that horrible release.

This time out Shatner agreed to the project as long as Ben Folds (whom Shatner had joined on his work previously) would produce. The result is one of the most unusual, and one of the best albums of 2004. Shatner and Folds co-wrote the majority of the disc, with Brad Paisley contributing his writing to the album's closer. Shatner is wise enough to not attempt to sing, but rather recite his poetry over the musical arrangements. Much of the album's lyrics focus on regrets, and in that aspect it is rather melancholic. Still, he infuses a very thoughtful and self-deprecating sense of humor into this that saves it from wandering into the melodramatic.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Common People
An electronic beat serves as the backdrop for the spoken verse here. As the chorus kicks in its in a killer punky mode. The lyrics to this one are quite funny. This cut features none other than Joe Jackson, and although Shatner's spoken performance makes up the majority of the vocals, Jackson's signing takes a good chunk of it, too. This one gets rather heavy and bouncy, and is a high energy and fun way to start this disc.

It Hasn't Happened Yet
This cut set to piano is a very nice reading. The lyrics have a certain sense of unfulfilled dreams that pretty much everyone can relate to in one way or another. This has a great jazzy texture. As a nod to his Star Trek history he mentions being "high on Yosemite", a reference to the film Star Trek V - The Final Frontier. In fact, in that same verse a slowed down voice says, "be one with the mountain" advice that was given to Shatner's Kirk by Spock. This drops to just the spoken voice, then rises back up. This is a very satisfying number.

You'll Have Time
A fun old time gospel/blues sound permeates this one. The lyrics are strictly a darkly humorous romp bringing the truth of everyone's mortality. It even includes gospel styled backing vocals and some killer keyboard work. This one is so dark and could in a different arrangement be depressing. As presented her it's funny, and even uplifting in a weird way. "Live life like you're gonna die, because you're going to". The overall theme is all about taking the time to enjoy life because it is finite. The backing vocals offer some seriously funny dark humor.
That's Me Trying
This one features both Aimee Mann and Ben Folds, and is another song reflecting regrets, in this case of losing touch with a child. This one is a dramatic and sad, but hopeful ballad. This is another incredibly strong track. The arrangement gets very powerful.

What Have You Done
This is a short (less than 2 minutes) track. This spoken piece is nearly acapella with only effects sounds. It details the death of Shatner's wife and will send chills down your spine. This is possibly the most emotionally powerful piece I have ever heard.

Together
Done with Lemon Jelly, this starts in a melancholy electronic mode. As the poetry enters a bouncy acoustic guitar based mode comes in with it, and the cut begins growing. It drops back down to the atmosphere that started it, then an electronic beat takes over. Shatner's recitations on this one leave plenty of room to let the music carry most of the track. This wanders in an intriguing half retro/half electronic tapestry. Backwards masking takes this late in the track. At times this feels a bit like Enigma. It ends abruptly with Shatner saying, "We're ready".

Familiar Love
This is a bluesy torch song, much like a slow Sinatra roll. This old fashioned number is not the best on the album, but it is quite a genuine feeling track. I'm not crazy about the backing vocals, and this one seems to drag on too long. It is definitely my least favorite piece on the disc.

Ideal Woman
This has a classic retro rock style and it really rocks out. It drops back to percussion and Hammond B3 with Shatner speaking over it. That segment is quite potent.

Has Been
This tongue in cheek piece feels like the theme to a cheap spaghetti western. It is hilarious. It pokes fun at Shatner's past and the "never done anything's" that call him a "has been".

I Can't Get Behind That
This track, performed with Henry Rollins is based on a fast paced rhythmic section and the occasional bit of weird music. Over top Rollins and Shatner trade off lines of their poetry reading in an angry patter. This is an incredibly cool stab at modern society and features two artists doing their own take on the same thing. This one also addresses certain "singers" who can't sing, but instead talk and have computers alter it to resemble singing. Hmmm, why does J-Lo come to mind?
Real
Written and performed with country artist Brad Paisley, Shatner recites the verse and Paisley takes the choruses. Obviously this has a country feel. Shatner says, "I'd love to help the world and all its problems / But I'm an entertainer, that's all / So the next time there's an asteroid or a natural disaster / I'm flatter that you thought of me, but I'm not the one to call!"
 
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