Recommended Albums #54

has been

William Shatner: Has Been (2004)

When I tell people what a great album William Shatner’s Has Been is I’m consistently misunderstood. I know I have a snarky sense of humor at times. I know I often tend to communicate by saying the opposite of what I actually mean. But as unlikely a scenario as you might find it to be, I’m dead serious when I tell you this is a very, very good pop album.

And no, I don’t “like it ironically”. Albeit elements of novelty abound, this record is not in the category of Shatner’s 1960’s cheese-fest The Transformed Man, which can only be appreciated in the ironic sense. Rather than spotlight Bill Shatner the untalented singer as that spectacularly bad album did, producer Ben Folds plays to Shatner’s strengths here–namely, his ability to deliver dramatic spoken lyric. It works.


When Folds signed on to produce and arrange this record (he and Shatner had worked together before, on Folds’ Fear of Pop project) he didn’t check his keen pop sensibilities at the door. The music here is top-notch, not to mention quite diverse.

And the guest performances are inspired. Listen for Joe Jackson’s impassioned take on the cover of Pulp’s “Common People”, the well-cast Henry Rollins on the duet/litany of general complaints “I Can’t Get Behind That”, or Brad Paisley taking a heartfelt turn on the chorus of “Real”. Folds himself takes vocals and piano on the tale of father/daughter estrangement “That’s Me Trying”. Folds’ plaintive melody and vocal delivery complement Shatner’s lamentation here perfectly.

Interlaced among all that is the astonishingly broadly-talented Mr. Shatner delivering what are at times shockingly honest and confessional-sounding self-penned lyrics. Most extreme example (not featured here) is “What Have You Done”, an unblinking account of Shatner’s discovery of his wife, dead in the couple’s swimming pool.

The guy has stones, or happens to be at the station in life when he just doesn’t give a shit anymore what people think. Probably both.

The album’s title track is possibly its highlight. Not only is it a brilliant musical lampoon of a now-obscure 60’s pop sub-genre typified by Lorne Greene’s “Ringo”, but it serves perfectly as a (hilarious) raised middle finger to Shat’s critics. Good for him.

Of course he’s Captain James T. Kirk to most. But the list of William Shatner’s accomplishments–best-selling author, successful horse breeder, Priceline commercial icon, Emmy-winning Denny Crane, and of course, a singer of sorts–is admirable. As he says in the album’s final track, “Real”:

And while there’s a part of me

In that guy you’ve seen up there on that screen

I am so much more

While I’m dead serious about how good an album this is, the chief reason to listen is that It’s good fun.

Listen to: “Common People”

Listen to: “That’s Me Trying”

Listen to: “Ideal Woman”

Don’t miss: “Has Been”

Listen to: “I Can’t Get Behind That”

Listen to: “Real”

See also:

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