William Shatner – Has Been (2004): On Second Thought

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William Shatner’s Has Been is the greatest record of the 21st Century. Well, at least it’s better than anything Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones or the Who have done this century, but that’s not really a high bar.

The album, bold in concept and brilliant in execution, rocks with wild abandon. The lead-off track, “Common People,” a cover of the Pulp’s classic, rocks so hard you can’t help but bounce around a room like a middle-age geek trying to shake off a leg cramp. The song, featuring aged new-waver Joe Jackson on vocals, easily surpasses the original and sets a high bar. “It Hasn’t happened Yet” slows things way down but the William Shatner lyrics — aptly supported by producer Ben Fold’s drum machine and elegant piano — would bring even a Vulcan to tears.

“You’ll Have Time” continues the theme. William Shatner, who has outlived most of the senior officers of the Starship Enterprise, reflects on the aging and dying process. Of course, he’s a strong narrator, but these lyrics are funning, poignant and take special meaning given the recent death of Leonard Nimoy. You have to love Ben Folds’ casting of the call-and-response black choir. The song musically hits all the cliques. Thank you, Ben Folds!

“That’s Me Trying” goes for the washed-up divorcee theme that Shatner has some familiarity with, and nails it. Family breakups and painful reunions make such good fun and the Ben Folds- and Aimee Mann-sung chorus only enhances the agony. Thanks Jim … I mean, Bill. “What Have You Done” is a spoken-word reading by William Shatner recounting finding his third (or was it fourth?) wife at the bottom of a pool. Let’s skip to “Ideal Women.” “I want you to be you,” Shatner claims, but we all know he’s lying. The whole point of love is finding the perfect person and spending decades trying to change them. Here, Shatner supports his desire with a salsa rhythm. The song is hilarious, for all the good reasons, and painfully familiar. Dammit, Jim! Ah, Bill.

The title track of Has Been has a country-and-western theme to it, yet the lyrics are serious and rather introspective. You can almost see William Shatner toe to toe with two pimply faced Trekkers at a convention. “Riding on their armchairs, they dream of wealth and fame. Fear is their companion, Nintendo is their game. Never Done Jack, Two Thumbs Don and Sidekick Don’t Say Dick, will laugh at other’s failures, though they have not done shit.”

The song represents a Captain Kirk style whip-ass to William Shatner’s doubters. Take that, you Klingon bastards! Now, Shatner is plenty riled up, and enlists Adrian Belew on rhino guitar then stands toe to toe with Henry Rollins on “I Can’t Get Behind That.” The album closes with the Brad Paisley collaboration “Real.” Poignant and touching in its impact, it boasts a message to Trekkers and people who worship Hollywood stars. William Shatner, once again, is telling us to get a life!

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