William Shatner must go down in history as one of the world's most unique interpretive artists. With `The Transformed Man', he produced a record that took several well known songs and readings, and transformed them into something so sublimely, er, different that it stirred deep emotion in the listener's soul. It was 40 years before he made another album, obviously thinking that his statement had been so definitive that there was no need to return to the recording studio.
2004's `Has Been' saw him stamp his individual mark on `Common People', before going on to give us some renditions of his own poetry. Again, it was an attention grabbing album and left the public's appetite for his work so sated that it was another 8 years before he was allowed to return to the studio.
And what has he produced for his third album? Here we have the concept album that I feel has been lurking inside Shatner for many years, struggling against the tide of popular opinion and good taste to get out. Riffing off his persona of Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise, he treats us to a host of tracks that tell the story of Major Tom - the second oddest space oddity after Shatner himself. He uses many classic tracks themed around space to explore Major Tom the man, and to try and tell the story of what happened where David Bowie's famous song left off. We are treated to Shatner's quite inimitable renditions of such well known classics as Spirit in the Sky, Bohemian Rhapsody, Space Trucking and, in the final coup de gras, Iron Man. Aided and abetted in his endeavours by a host of well known musicians, including Sheryl Crow, Ritchie Blackmore and Peter Frampton, they try to hold our man back, but his indomitable talents shine through and overpower their contributions. In many ways it is a work of genius, after listening to this for the first time I appreciate the sheer beauty of Ozzy Osbourne's singing, and Sting's musical talents. I am sure that David Bowie will be moved to tears at this treament of his opus. All the way through Shatner alternates between angry, pained and mystified. On many occasions you really feel the pain. And you come away with the vague hope that he never finds Major Tom - there are moments of anger where you really fear what he might do to the poor sod when he catches up with him. He might even force him to listen to this record.
In the end it is another masterpiece from Shatner. He is either deadly serious or winking at you in a clever self parody, but whether you choose to laugh along with the joke or take it all seriously I am sure you will find much to enjoy. It's fast establishing itself as a firm favourite with me, and I just have to give it 5 stars. I just hope that he sees he has reached the apogee of musical greatness, and I truly believe that to release any more would spoil his unparalleled musical legacy...
on 15 November 2011
I heard the briefest mention of Seeking Major Tom in a radio interview a couple of weeks ago with William Shatner here in Canada, which got my attention, and I didn't hesitate to hunt down a copy, based not upon any particular fondness for Star Trek or knowledge of his career, but upon my regard for his previous albums The Transformed Man and Has Been.
When William Shatner released The Transformed Man he was widely ridiculed for his unfortunate versions of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and Mr Tambourine Man, but whilst these are uniquely lamentable they are not representative of the complete album. It is with thanks to the media that they have become the pieces that defined his musical career. The public wants to hear his comic interpretations of well-known songs. This album will doubtless have the hoards in stitches over his award-winning take on Iron Man, and Bohemian Rhapsody. It's great that he doesn't take himself too seriously, but Seeking Major Tom is I feel a flawed album on several levels.
The original concept was provided by Brian Perrera of Cleopatra records, to cut an album of covers of space-themed songs. Shatner, about to ditch the whole idea, found a thread that interested him in the unfinished tale of Major Tom and became intrigued with the idea of fleshing out his story. William Shatner's liner notes are the most valuable addition to the booklet (otherwise comprised chiefly of praise from the participating musicians), shedding some light on the project, but I wish he had elaborated on his choice of songs and their sequence, and how this creates a storyline, because it isn't particularly clear from simply listening to the album.
I have this - probably skewed - image of William Shatner being harassed to do this album, it's like a child tugging at his grandfather's sleeve and nagging him to stand up and perform that hilarious party trick of his, please please please! And eventually Shatner gives in with a groan, and does his crazy thing, to the delight of everyone.
This illuminates one of the crucial differences between this and his earlier albums: before he was enthusiastic about what he was doing, this time his performances are not always particularly good, at best he sounds great but elsewhere he sounds distracted or disengaged from the lyrics, so much so that things start to drag, and I begin to wish there were some spacey instrumental interludes to break up the talk, or more use of backing singers to spruce things up.
The cast of supporting musicians is largely drawn from the old guard of rockers from a bygone time, and this has its pros and cons. I think it seems to add a predictability to the sound of the album, there aren't really any surprises. Saying that, it is clear that Has Been, largely created by a younger crowd, has been influencial on this album in places. At worst the faithfulness to original arrangements results in something like karaoke, as with the clumsy cover of Duran Duran's Planet Earth and the tiresome treadmills of Twilight Zone and Silver Machine. I'm not always sure if the near-metal guitar solos are being played in earnest or in irony.
The device of tagging on sections of earlier songs at the end of several of the tracks quickly becomes irksome and I wish they'd explored other ways to achieve the result that they were aiming for, perhaps William Shatner could have written some segments for between the songs to form a narrative instead, which would have given the storyline a chance. At the least they could have separated these snippets so that the listener could programme them out.
For all of my misgivings there are several highlights in the set: the urgent Major Tom (Coming Home) gets things moving nicely; Rocket Man is very touching, a song that he has covered before and which clearly holds meaning to him; the highly amusing She Blinded Me With Science with Bootsy Collins, which spices things up; the crazed sermon Spirit In The Sky; Lost In The Stars for a standout moving vocal performance(though I'd prefer it without the saxophone); Learning To Fly; and Mr Spaceman. For these and a few others I am glad I bought this album. Everyone will have their own favourites which more than justify the purchase.
There's an argument that, with Seeking Major Tom, William Shatner has finally done the album he always should have.
But there's perhaps an even bigger argument for a galaxy-wide restraining order that prohibits Mr Shatner from being within a light year of any recording studio, especially after his first release some 43 years ago.
The Transformed Man, released in 1968, is infamous for the Starship Captain's cover of 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.'
His interpretation of that classic track is generally regarded as not only the worst ever cover of a Beatles tune, but a contender for worst ever cover, period.
In 2004 he fared a lot better with Has Been (based around Shatner's prose-poems) and his cover of Pulp's 'Common People' garnered some critical acclaim.
But that, you would think, would be that for William Shatner's musical career.
With Seeking Major Tom, the now 80 year old Captain Kirk stars in a space-themed conceptual work featuring many classic or truly iconic pop, rock or heavy rock songs, featuring some true greats of the rock world including Steve Howe, John Wetton, Michael Schenker, Warren Haynes and Patrick Moraz, to name but five.
And, for the most part, it works extremely well (there goes the rock-street cred).
Shatner, for the most part, is playing the part of Major Tom (the famous character from David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' and later references) as he drifts through the star-fields and blackness of space on a journey of narration and music.
The album opens with `Major Tom' (originally written and performed by Peter Schilling) and is the perfect musical prologue to the album and segues (via some "Houston Mission Control" dialogue) into `Space Oddity.'
Shatner definitely puts his own vocal stamp on the Bowie song (which features lead guitar from Ritchie Blackmore), but therein lies the problem...
Great music and great musicians' aside, this is still a narrative driven concept.
For every listener who can appreciate or at least accept the style, another will see that "stamp on the Bowie song" as stamping all over a classic.
Similarly, Shatner's take on `Bohemian Rhapsody' will have the Queen aficionado's running to put their phasers-on-kill.
Yet I find the hard-to-listen-to songs are in the minority because overall song choice, quality of musicianship and the quirky spaced-out themes mean the tracks that work are very listenable. And some of them are actually very good.
Personal favourites are `Space Cowboy' (featuring country rock singer Brad Paisley), `Spirit in the Sky' (with some tasty six-string touches courtesy of Peter Frampton) and `Space Truckin' (featuring guest musicians Ian Paice and Johnny Winter).
Other notable tunes making an appearance and getting the Shatner touch include `Rocket Man,' `Walking on the Moon,' `Silver Machine,' and `Iron Man.'
Shatner actually sings - well, to a degree - on the Black Sabbath classic (with vocal backing and guitar work from Zakk Wylde) and his rough delivery suits the song.
'Planet Earth' closes out the album and the Duran Duran song works well as a finale, acting as an ending where Major Tom has perhaps found his way home.
But it's not all modern pop or heavy rock. `Lost in the Stars' by Kurt Weill (covered by Frank Sinatra amongst others) features Shatner at his most serious and comes complete with saxophone accompaniment by legendary jazz musician Ernie Watts.
So much for the travels of Major Tom, what about the missus?
That's covered here too, on the only song not to feature Shatner...
Sheryl Crow takes the role of the worried wife on `Mrs. Major Tom,' a song done originally by electronic music artist K.I.A (writer and producer Kirby Ian Andersen).
Here it works as an interlude or closing statement to what is, in effect, the end of Side One (or CD1) of the album.
It's a lovely little song and Crow delivers a beautifully sincere vocal.
As much as I have warmed to Seeking Major Tom, it is too long at 20 songs and 90 minutes (some of the numbers have been revisited to enhance the drifting in space theme).
And although I like and enjoy many of the songs, there are some I won't be revisiting. Top of that list is 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' which sounds like Shatner took his inspiration from The Muppets version. Which is fine. If you're The Muppets.
Some will find Seeking Major Tom amusing or quirky.
Others will like it while many will absolutely loathe it.
But one thing's for sure - it is a unique set of covers.
Because the undeniable fact is when Bill Shatner walks into a music studio and the microphone is turned on, he doesn't sound like any old Major Tom, Dick or Harry.
on 27 October 2011
Have this on CD and it is very enjoyable. Bought it for just the Learning To Fly track which is an old Pink Floyd number but here done by the founding member of my favourite band Tangerine Dream (He being Edgar Froese). However, although that track for me is great and worth the purchase alone, I found the whole double album so much fun. OK, Bill doesn't sing the numbers, he of course talks (or acts) them but he does not take himself seriously and it is all highly entertaining. I can see why these old Rock Legends want to sign up for it as they must have a real ball themselves doing it. Get it for just over 90 mins of real eccentric entertainment by Mr Shatner - I promise you, you will never have anything like it in your collection again. Superb stuff, especially the one with TD of course. Go buy it now, you will not be disappointed I'm sure. Beam me up!!
This album offers far, far more than any of us could reasonably have expected from William Shatner this late in the game. He's eighty, for heaven's sake! Not to mention a vain, washed-up, overweight, toupee-wearing ham. And yet there are easily half a dozen tracks here that are, by any criteria, utterly superb. Obviously for sheer entertainment value there's Shatner's deathless take on 'Bohemian Rhapsody', against which even the Frank Sidebottom and Rolf Harris covers positively wither in comparison. And it's lovely to finally have (to use a Shatneresque split infinitive) a studio release for Shatner's signature performance of 'Rocket Man'. Just these two tracks alone make the album a worthy addition to any collection.
But, even with my tongue out of my cheek for a moment, unbelievably some of the heavy metal tracks here actually WORK! 'Empty Glass', 'Silver Machine' and 'Twilight Zone' in particular are played absolutely straight by Shatner's assembled galaxy of heavy-hitting sidemen, and these tracks really do take on an extra dimension from Shatner's gruff, eccentric delivery. In a good way. No, really, they do! Why the hell Shatner is recording heavy metal tracks at the age of eighty is anyone's guess, but he's done it with love, precision and real aplomb, and the results speak for themselves. As does Shatner, whose 'singing' remains utterly unique.
This would have definitely been a five star review if it had been edited down to the best dozen or so tracks. It has to be said that a few of the numbers here are a little half-hearted, and not everything works quite as brilliantly as the set's real stand out tracks do. Buy, hey, less is less and more is more, and at least having the full 20-song magnum opus allows us all to wallow for a full 90 minutes in the warped but oddly comforting world of William Shatner. I've lived with this CD for 8 months now, and it's much more than a throwaway novelty record. In its own peculiar way it's a richly satisfing and well-realised artistic statement, to which I've returned again and again with pleasure and humble amazement. If you loved Shatner's previous two skewed masterpieces, 'Has Been' and 'Transformed Man', then for sure you will love this one too. And may God have mercy on your soul.
on 18 November 2011
what a great album . pleased to see that humour still has a place in music.From the NASA opening countdown to the closing statement of i love you, you'll find something to hit the spot.
the quality of playing is brilliant and bill is amazing. highlights for me are
rocket man: so laid back, it's almost horizontal with some typical hilligian twiddley bits
she blinded me with science: as good if not better than the original
with a more funky edge than you might expect
silver machine: stunning is the only description. have been a major hawkwind fan for 40 years and of the song since it was released. this is the best interpretation of the song i've heard. bob calvert would have loved it. they should see if w.s. will guest on their winter tour.
iron man: eat your heart out mr osbourne.
there are a couple of lacklustre moments hence only 4 stars, but overall a much better album than you might expect.
many pretensions well and truly pricked.
my only real concern is that if some 'unknown' had come up with this, it would not have got past the front door of any record label.
on 8 December 2011
As he puts it in his autobiography he talk sings everything but it works on this. I listen to this with a broad grin on my face from start to finish but not because its a comedy record but because he knows he is taking the mick and he does it tongue firmly in cheek from start to finish. If nothing else he has Zak Wylde riffing on his CD.
God bless Captain Kirk/Shatner :)
on 19 January 2012
It's difficult to write a review for this really, there is some toe-curling stuff (Shatner tries to hold a note) but then there's some fun stuff. This is basically an 80 year old man having a laugh with a number of famous musicians who should know better and don't care. For confirmation of this look carefully at the cover, it looks like a stock photo of Shatner badly pasted into a clip-art space-suit, if it wasn't Shatner I'd be appalled.
I enjoyed it!
Dear ol' Shatner plays the cosmic cowboy to perfection , most ably accompanied by some of best in the biz, in the shape of a monster concept album. Kudos to whoever assembled such a fabulous array of musicians and produced a surprisingly cohesive work.
Here's a first impressions rundown with my ill-considered and possibly unwanted opinions:
First up, Space Oddity delivers a special magic even when it's presented in spoken form. Most affecting.
Moving on , Space Cowboy is a blast, Space Truckin' a crazy grinnin' hoot...oh my god,it has drum solo! C'mon, let's go space truckin' :) Thanks Ian Paice and Johnny Winter !
Rocket Man...hmmm Steve Hillage doing Elton John? Nicely chilled.
Bootsy's big fat bass lines join Patrick Moraz in a funky - almost funkadelic - Blinded Me With Science. Tons of fun. It'll have you sliding round the room of your choice - guaranteed.
Walkin' on the Moon with Toots is ok - better than ok 'cos he has such a good voice.
Peter Frampton puts in some great licks on Spirit in the Sky.
And Bohemian Rhapsody well, it had me rolling on the floor,tears streaming from my eyes...a tour de force...beautiful.
Next up, Shatner plays frontman to Hawkwind and guess what, I think it's better than the original Silver Machine. He's just so out there.
Sheryl Crows's Mrs Major Tom, marks a lovely change to the manic fun. From now on the mood is more introspective.
Empty Glass begins to weave a spell on me that perhaps there's something serious being asked here,I mean "we're losing our souls", is this getting too heavy?
Lost In The Stars and Learning To Fly, from the Buffalo Springfield, - wow drifted away to these two - perhaps I'll revisit them later.
The fun returns with Mr Spaceman with a touch of Kinks courtesy of Dave Davies and a great Commander Cody-esque middle.
Twilight Zone is a tremendous 7min:24s slab of classic rock
Struggle - I don't know this one,or do I, think I should have - is a grand affair and well suited to the Shatner treatment.
Iron Man , yes it IS the Black Sabbath number. Clocking in at a heavy 6 and a half minutes featuring blazing monster guitar from Zakk Wylde.
Finally, the very 80's Planet Earth ...Duran Duran anyone? Actually, this track doesn't hit the spot for me but hey and looking back, Walking on the Moon was good but not great so let's say 18.5/20. Still a good score right?
And it's only my opinion ;)
Well...you get the drift.
A great album , a very good production, really good musicianship, a lot of fun.
on 23 November 2011
Nothing like a good song is able to make you dream.
The interpretation that Shatner is able to provide of the history of "Major Tom" is definitely out of the ordinary.
Rather than song you can speak of a narrative in music.
The magnificent musical accompaniment completes the work.
They are really two CD that deserve to be heard.