Has Been

Has Been

4.0 4
by William Shatner
     
 
Those familiar with William Shatner's Golden Throats covers of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Mr. Tambourine Man" from his Star Trek days may be surprised by the emotional depth on this album. Produced by fan and friend Ben Folds, Has Been evokes an unexpected pathos and sincerity,

Overview

Those familiar with William Shatner's Golden Throats covers of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Mr. Tambourine Man" from his Star Trek days may be surprised by the emotional depth on this album. Produced by fan and friend Ben Folds, Has Been evokes an unexpected pathos and sincerity, akin to that of Bill Murray's Bob Harris in Lost in Translation: a silver-haired man trying to come to terms with the mess of his life, baring warts and all. The erstwhile Captain Kirk expresses self-doubt and regret on "It Hasn't Happened Yet," and he answers his Trekkie fans, who have always had trouble separating the man from the myth, with "Real," a country-rock ballad written by and sung with Brad Paisley, where Shatner admits, "Just because you've seen me on your TV / Doesn't mean I'm any more enlightened than you." A gospel-soaked admonition to make the most of every moment, "You'll Have Time" finds Shatner pointing a finger with such lines as "Live like you're gonna die / Because you are," his resignation tempered only by the enthusiasm of the delivery and the sizzle of the gospel chorus echoing his words. But few cuts tug the heartstrings like "That's Me Trying," co-written by Folds and author Nick Hornby. With Folds and Aimee Mann adding warm-hued harmonies, Shatner offers an aching monologue from a father trying to reconnect with an estranged daughter. That's not to say he ignores his humorous side, venting his spleen alongside Henry Rollins on "I Can't Get Behind That" and renewing the spark in Pulp's effusive class commentary "Common People," with Joe Jackson chiming in. Stylistically, Shatner is all over the map -- from the garage rock–fueled "Ideal Woman" to the loungy tones of "Together," a collaboration with Lemon Jelly -- but his delivery, always on the cusp of irony but never quite there, makes the songs gel, proving that even at 73, he's far from a has-been.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Toward the end of Star Trek's run, William Shatner released The Transformed Man, a collection of spoken word interpretations of popular songs and recitations of poetry pitched halfway between middlebrow art and trippy trendiness. With his overheated, hysteric delivery supported by syrupy strings and studio trickery, Shatner sounded like a psychedelicized Rod McKuen, and The Transformed Man was every bit a period piece as anything McKuen penned during that time -- such as the largely (and justly) forgotten Frank Sinatra concept album A Man Alone. The difference is, where A Man Alone was pompous, pedestrian, and dull, The Transformed Man was pompous, bizarre, and thrilling, a truly strange, compelling miscalculation that was ignored at the time but turned into a cult classic over the years, partially due to Shatner's iconic status as Captain James Tiberius Kirk, but mostly because it was flat-out, fall-down funny. Perhaps it wasn't intended as comedy, but by the time Rhino featured his histrionic versions of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Mr. Tambourine Man" on their 1988 compilation Golden Throats: The Great Celebrity Sing-Off, there was no doubt that they were now considered comedy records, and soon they were well known -- so well known that fans of those two cuts may not have realized that the rest of The Transformed Man was filled with readings of Shakespeare and obtuse poetry that somehow spoke to existential struggles with identity, winding up as some sort of a concept album. Its status as a cult comedy classic didn't get how weird the whole thing was, but it didn't really matter, since "Lucy in the Sky" and "Tambourine Man" were really funny, whether they were taken in the context of the album or removed from it. By the late '90s, Shatner's status as a serious actor had long since faded, and he was best known as a caricature of Captain Kirk -- not really for the work he did on Star Trek, but how it was parodied, and the songs from The Transformed Man fed into that image, leading to a lucrative role as a Priceline.com spokesman. In those ads, he revived his musical career, but there was a difference this time around: he was in on the joke. Around the same time, Ben Folds enlisted Shatner for a guest vocal on his 1998 Fear of Pop project, beginning a friendship that later blossomed into a full-fledged collaboration on Has Been, Shatner's long-awaited return to recording. Arriving in the fall of 2004, Has Been was released at the height of a Shatner resurgence that those late-'90s Priceline commercials kick started. He had another round of commercials for the company -- this time also starring his longtime comrade Leonard Nimoy -- and a co-starring role in the prime time series Boston Legal, which was a spin-off of the long-running TV drama The Practice, where he had won an Emmy for his guest spot as a sleazy lawyer. Things were breaking in Shatner's favor because he had embraced the overblown, cheerfully smug caricature, playing his persona instead of playing a character. Because of this, it was reasonable to expect that Has Been would be a cheerfully comic record, an album designed to be a comedy album, unlike The Transformed Man, whose humor was unintentional. That's not the album Has Been is. Sure, there's a good dose of humor throughout the record -- not only is Shatner hamming it up, but Ben Folds can never resist a joke -- but that's only one element on an album that's as weird and bewildering as The Transformed Man. In many ways, Has Been is its polar opposite -- there are no baroque arrangements or psychedelic effects, it's grounded in rock & roll and jazzy lounge instrumentals, its message clear, not deliberately cryptic. But the most shocking thing about the album is its sincerity. There's only one cover of a big pop tune, and it's Pulp's "Common People" -- one of the great singles of the 1990s, but a standard only in Europe, and largely unknown in America. While it's played on Has Been with a knowing wink, the song itself is intended to be funny: in Jarvis Cocker's hands, the wit cut like a blade, while Shatner blusters his way through it, but the difference is in delivery -- Shatner knows what the words mean, and he delivers it with an actor's precision. It's funny, but it's sincere, right down to how Folds brings his idol Joe Jackson in to snarl the chorus, so the cover works as a piece of music, not just as a novelty. That's the approach of Has Been in a nutshell, but the album gets far stranger very quickly as Shatner begins a series of spoken song-poems, all but two written by him and revealing his introspective musings on love, life, work, fear, disappointment, regret, and everyday mundane things that get on his nerves. Even the two songs not written by him -- "That's Me Trying," Nick Hornby's tale of a neglectful father ham-fistedly reaching out to his adult child, and Brad Paisley's peak behind the personal ballad "Real" -- feel autobiographical, feeding into the sentiment that this record functions as a kind of last testament, Shatner getting everything off of his chest while he still has a chance to do so. That he's doing it while cracking jokes, or while Folds crafts the title track into a mock spaghetti Western theme, just makes the entire project all the more surreal and oddly affecting. It may not be an album that's as funny or timeless as The Transformed Man, but Has Been is every bit as bizarre as that cult classic, giving Shatner the distinction of producing two of the strangest footnotes in the history of popular music, as well as celebrity culture. And that's gotta count for something.

Product Details

Release Date:
10/05/2004
Label:
Shout Factory
UPC:
0826663034929
catalogNumber:
30349
Rank:
16237

Related Subjects

Tracks

Album Credits

Performance Credits

William Shatner   Primary Artist,Vocals
Adrian Belew   Guitar
Joe Jackson   Piano,Vocals,Guest Appearance
Henry Rollins   Vocals,Guest Appearance
Webb Wilder   Choir, Chorus
Aimee Mann   Vocals,Guest Appearance
Jon Auer   Guitar,Background Vocals
Matt Chamberlain   Percussion,Drums
John Mark Painter   Bass,Guitar,Trumpet,Bass Guitar,Background Vocals,Guitar (Baritone)
Carmella Ramsey   Choir, Chorus
Kim Richey   Choir, Chorus
Sebastian Steinberg   Bass,Vocals,Upright Bass
Ben Folds   Organ,Synthesizer,Bass,Piano,Drums,Bass Guitar,Keyboards,Electric Piano,Vocals,Background Vocals,Wurlitzer,Tack Piano,Guest Appearance
Lindsay Jamieson   Drums
Fleming McWilliams   Voices
Brad Paisley   Guitar,Vocals,Guest Appearance
Lemon Jelly   Various
Laurie Wheeler   Choir, Chorus
John Davis & the Georgia Sea Island Singers   Choir, Chorus
Jared Reynolds   Choir, Chorus
Curt Bol   Choir, Chorus
Benita Hill   Choir, Chorus
Louisville Common People's Choir   Background Vocals

Technical Credits

Henry Rollins   Composer
William Shatner   Composer
Nick Banks   Composer
Jarvis Cocker   Composer
Candida Doyle   Composer
Russell Senior   Composer
Ben Folds   Arranger,Composer,Producer,Liner Notes,Art Direction,Audio Production
Joe Costa   Engineer
Alan Wolmark   Executive Producer
Brad Paisley   Composer
Lemon Jelly   Composer,Programming,Instrumentation
Steve Mackey   Composer
Nick Hornby   Composer
Elizabeth Shatner   Composer

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Has Been 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I listened to this cd for the first time sitting in my office and I couldn't believe how...different this was. Finally a breath of something NEW and heartfelt and so much of Mr. Shatner was poured into this SUPRISINGLY dramatic yet at the same time facetious cd. I think it's Brillant.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yea this is the best cd i have heard in forever! I actually had to have my boyfriendhide it on me so i wouldn't make myself sick of it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
William Shatner is hilariously wonderful in this album. I love his version of Common People. You'll Have Time is dreadfully depressing and hilarious at the same time. Bill has done it again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Shatner is no Has Been on this album. Instead he's funny, witty, and I swear there's something on this to appeal to everyone. I've recommended it to a ton of people already, and I just can't say enough about how much "I Want You To Be You" really says about true love!