Album Review: Has Been is a collaboration between actor William Shatner and modern rocker Ben Folds. Just after the release of the album, Shatner explained their approach to Billboard magazine: "I'm doing word-jazz—expressing in jazz form words that come from my soul—aided and abetted by Ben Folds' musical soul." That turns out to be quite an apt description, for contrary to expectations, this Shatner-Folds collaboration is no novelty
album. The two artists put a lot of thought and effort into the music and spoken-word lyrics, and the results is a disc packed full of interesting songs. The title track to Has Been mixes musical elements of the theme to "Rawhide" and Herb Alpert's "Lonely Bull" with clever lyrics that take aim at wayward career paths. "Real" discusses the superhuman attributes we may wrongly confer on the actors who play larger-than-life
heroes. (Shatner's words here sound as if they have real meaning for the man who played James T. Kirk, the Starfleet captain who always came up with the right solution.) On "You'll Have Time," Shatner perfectly captures that drunk-on-a-barstool feeling, with wannabe cosmic musings about how to live life. The lyrics to "Ideal Woman" are downright funny, and the backing track combines a swinging organ sound with a
"Summer Rain" minor-key riff that works perfectly with Shatner's punchy delivery. The manic ravings on "I Can't Get Behind That" are made very listenable by the "angry beatnik" approach and by the fact that the complaints about modern life are so on-target. In the song "Together," Folds and Shatner blend phrases from mythology and antiquity with reincarnation and love and with a hypnotic rhythm to produce a song that would
almost sound at home on mainstream radio. "That's Me Trying" is a heartfelt story of a father attempting to communicate with a child after many years of not doing so. The ache is deepened by the pairing of Shatner's resonant baritone verses with the sweet alto singing in the hook, provided by Folds and Aimee Mann. "Common People," which was also released as a single, features perhaps the most left-handed proposal ever—"I want to
sleep with common people... like you." On every song, Folds has matched the music perfectly to Shatner's hammy but effective spoken-word technique, which keeps the album from falling into the "interesting but disposable" category. Perhaps it helps to be a fan of William Shatner or Ben Folds in general, but Has Been is good for its music, lyrics, and performance, and it's an effort Shatner and Folds can be proud of.
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