Stimulus: William Shatner – Seeking Major Tom
God bless William Shatner for having a music career – okay, a spoken-word career set to music. Following up on his artistic and awesome collaboration with Ben Folds in Has Been, Shatner’s enunciations have returned to the grin-worthy. At last, his aural body of work has arrived at its logical, Captain Kirk conclusion: a covers concept album about space. If it’s a famous song that in any way references the heavens, Seeking Major Tom takes it on, swirls it together alongside NASA audio clips, and places it among the coherent whole. He dusts off his classic rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” does the expected gloom of Bowie’s “Space Odyssey,” rambles around like a drunk uncle in “Space Truckin’,” rocks it wild on “The Twilight Zone,” and synths up his voice to ba-baba a sweet cover of Duran Duran’s “Planet Earth.” Most of this is entirely predictable, and all of it is wonderful.
The only exception to this goodness is “Mrs. Major Tom,” a cover entirely devoid of Shatner’s presence and full of Sheryl Crow’s. It’s an okay track, but in the context of the greater album the lack of hyperacted vocals is jarring. There’s definitely a Where the Hell is Shatner vibe to it.
But let’s get to the mind-blowing parts. First off, Shatner covers “Iron Man.” It’s pretty goddamn amazing, though the focus is much more on Zakk Wylde’s guitar playing than on our hero’s sweet crooning. Yet looming even more titanic in the category of it must be heard to be believed is William Shatner, covering “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Holy shit (or Shat), this is amazing. Shatner completely warps and perverts this song, throwing out Freddie Mercury’s rock opera vocals and replacing them with groans and wails and gnashing teeth. The song becomes less tragedy and much more farce, with the lyrics under Shatner’s stewardship becoming the tale of a paranoid schizophrenic with a splitting headache. It’s beautiful.
If you can, check out Shatner’s video for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Not content with warping only one classic beyond recognition, his music video is by all appearances a dissection of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight,” in which the starry, disembodied head of Shatner sings in space and occasionally plagues the Earth with meteors. It’s splendid.
It’s not half as respectable as Has Been (or even those songs in which Shatner howls out Shakespeare monologues), but Seeking Major Tom is the album of a man who knows his place in pop culture and isn’t afraid to ham it up to the fullest. Now if only Adam West will make a cover album about bats.