William Shatner's New Album Of Sci-Fi Covers? Not Bad! He's At Amoeba Today
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William Shatner's first foray into music was 1968's The Transformed Man, a novelty of Shakespeare and Cyrano de Bergerac passages paired with a couple of pop tunes, "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." They were unintentionally funny thanks to Shatner's famous spoken-word delivery.
By the aughts, after becoming Priceline.com's pitchman, Shatner was finally in on the joke and un-ironically hip among kids, leading to a collaboration with Ben Folds for 2004's Has Been, the actor's second record of mostly originals. Then there was the wonderfully bombastic version of Pulp's haughty "Common People," which was a hit in Europe, if barely heard here.
Now, on his just-released third album Seeking Major Tom (Cleopatra Records), Shatner goes back to embracing his status as geek commander and gives Trekkies the gift of space- and sci-fi-themed covers, recorded with folks like Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, Peter Frampton, and Brad Paisley. He'll be signing the work today at Amoeba Music -- and it's pretty wild.
Shatner's still shat-ing out those long....dramatic....pauses that are equal parts deadpan, urgent and smug, especially on Peter Schilling's "Major Tom (Coming Home)" with The Strokes' Nick Valensi, where almost every word is a sentence: Earth. Below us. Drifting. Falling. Floating. Weightless. And whenever he asks, "Are you suuure?" -- as he does on "Common People" -- he sounds like he's coming on to some Comi-Con slut.
Shatner's version of Elton John's "Rocket Man" with British guitarist Steve Hillage is not nearly as amusing as his live 1978 cover, back when you could still smoke on TV. When he belts out, "I'm gonna be hiiiigh as a kite," he probably was. And though reworking "Space Oddity" with Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore is an obvious choice for the album, the song just sounds funnier coming from Bowie's Cockney accent. Same goes for including The Police's "Walking on the Moon" with Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals. It's more amusing coming from Sting's faux Jamaican accent.
If it's laughs you're looking for, listen to Bootsy Collins trippin' and ad libbing, "William Shatner here, riding on the mothership, just for the funk of it," on Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me with Science." The funkmaster sounds more Shatner than Shatner.
Oh, and there's this. In a recent NME.com interview, Shatner admitted that he'd not only never heard of "Bohemian Rhapsody" but wasn't all that familiar with Queen either. Hard to believe considering it's one of rock's biggest classics, and even parodied by non-humans. (How cute was The Muppets' viral hit two years ago?). Shatner is no match for Miss Piggy. But Freddie Mercury can at least have a good laugh up upstairs listening to Shatner try to pronounce "bismillah."