November 15, 2011 by Dan Swinhoe
So, William Shatner. Iconic the world over for two things; going boldly where no one went before, and creating music so bad it was only rivalled by fellow trekker Leonard Nimoy’s musical crimes.
But, as popular culture does, it’s taken Shatner and propelled him back up the ladder of success, and is now regarded as a hero, in the same way people revere oddballs like Tom Baker and Brian Blessed. Not only is his TV career back on some sort of track, but people are paying him to put out more music. 2004’s ‘Has Been’, showed Shatner was in on the joke, and even had a bit of talent in a quality cover of Pulp’s ‘Common People’. The difference between Shatner talking and Shatner singing are minimal at best, and often interchangeable. The over emphasis on words and staggered delivery, so easily parodied yet there’s nothing quite like the man himself.
‘Searching For Major Tom’, even for Shatner, is an exercise in excessive. A space-themed covers album, spanning 18 tracks of ‘out of this world’ rock songs, featuring an array of high-profile guest musicians on pretty much every track. In one swift move he’s laid claim to the covers, concept and guest-star markets. Heaven help us. Your Trekky friend (we all have one) will probably get incredibly excited, though he will claim it’s in an ironic way, and will be gagging to add this to his collection.
The Major Tom character that Bowie created has spawned numerous songs following his adventures, which Shatner as collated and added to in order to create the most feared of all musical endeavours, the Rock Opera. Cynics might suggest it’s a plug for his new website, myouterspace, a sort of ultimate trekker social network, but the benefit of the doubt will be given. At least it’s not a Star Trek themed album, right?
Opening with actual NASA communications, Shatner opens with a double whammy of ‘Major Tom (Coming Home)’ and ‘Space Oddity’, hammering home the old space theme incase the cover or the album title didn’t give it away. And surprisingly, they’re actually pretty good. Working with a massive wealth of musical talent means the backdrop for Shatner is near note perfect, so even if his delivery doesn’t grab you, any liking for the source material makes it satisfying.
‘Space Cowboy’ and ‘Space Truckin’ are enjoyable too. You can almost hear the smile on his face as he’s ‘singing’. He knows it’s terrible. We know it’s terrible. He knows we know it’s terrible. yet that makes it ok. The funky ‘She Blinded Me With Science’, featuring Bootsy Collins, even see a bit of genre hopping. The highlight, as it is on any covers record, is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. It’s everything you could want, economising everything that is great and at the same time diabolical about this man. The video is something special too, imagine the moon face from the mighty boosh meets Monty Python opening credits. Holy Shatner!
The cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’ featuring BLS/Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde is another highpoint, but Wyld’s playing and vocals take over and it becomes closer to a BLS song featuring Shatner. Fingers crossed for a Shatner-free version from Zakk in the future. ‘Struggle’ is the only original here and the only one without a guest, but doesn’t really go anywhere.
Considering it was his overblown performance of Elton John’s ‘Rocketman’ at the Science Fiction Film Awards that was the definitive moment in his musical career, he’s gone surprisingly low-key with it. Understated and quiet, it seems like a missed opportunity. Restraint isn’t what the legions of Trekkers want. They want the musical equivalent of Kirk wrestling with a man dressed in a lizard costume in the desert.
For the layers of cheese piled on here, you have to respect the line up of musicians; Ritchie Blackmore, Bootsy Collins, Michael Shenker, Zakk Wylde, the list goes on. The inclusion of these and some decent guest vocalists have got to beg the question; Does James T. Kirk want to be taken seriously as a musician? It’s hard to say. At times its fun and silly, ‘Space Trucking’, ‘She Blinded Me With Science,’ yet at other moments it has an air of stoney-faced seriousness, and seems like a lot of effort just to take the piss. The second half, minus ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Twilight Zone’ drag the album down and listening becomes an endurance event. The album could do with losing a few tracks, and the Space-theme wears thin, with reprises pop up on a regular basis.
At the end of the day this is mostly shite. Fun, but terrible. You knew before you read this review it was going to be, you could never hear a note and know exactly what to expect. But we let Shatner off for many reasons. He was Kirk, he told us there was some-THING on the plane, but mostly because there’s few people left on the planet like him. And, judging from the album, he’s not even on the planet any more.