here are a lot of elements that made “Fear of Pop (In Love)” an amazing song. What few realized at the time, the very fact that Ben Folds mixed himself incredibly low into the song, so that Shatner’s words could easily be heard over his singing of the (mostly) useless chorus, was one of these key factors. It’s so easy to hear now, of course, with the clear light of hindsight that is Has Been.
Now, Has Been isn’t the worst album that’s ever been released. But, it seems to rank with William Hung’s Inspiration as one of the most ill-conceived albums of all time. Seeking to take advantage of the hipster cache of the infamous Transformed Man, the recent Priceline commercials and his new show Boston Legal; Shatner teams up once again with Ben Folds, who now seems to be in career-crisis mode, to do what he does best: himself. The problem, of course, is that Shatner knows he’s Shatner now. And so does everyone else. It’s the joke that stops being funny after you hear the premise.
The premise, if you haven’t heard, is Shatner does “Common People”. And it’s certainly worth a listen, as most novelty songs are. But, again, like nearly all novelty songs, its probable lifespan is less than five listens. Possibly less than that if you listen to the chorus, in which Joe Jackson inexplicably appears and makes a fool of himself.
It gets better, though. “It Hasn’t Happened Yet”, which follows “Common People” is exactly what you’d like to hear Shatner doing: be a calm, composed version of himself, allowing the production to bring out his essential humor and humanity. It’s Shatner at his most self-conscious, doing a monologue not unlike “Fear of Pop (In Love)”, but without the shouting and enforced theatrics. Shatner leaves this to Folds and the production team, who add an amusing falsetto vocalist to back him up and a panned Shatner verbalizing his fears.
It also gets worse, unfortunately. “That’s Me Trying” regrettably sees Nick Hornby penning a tune and Ben Folds making a far too brash vocal contribution, “You’ll Have Time” is a unfunny gospel vamp about death while “Familiar Love” is an altogether too predictable second take on “Fear of Pop (In Love)” in which the familiarity of love gets the treatment.
It’s perhaps telling, in fact, that the two more tracks to recommend here, the two tracks that Shatner gets close to being affecting and real (“Real” and “Together”) are the two that Folds has no credit attached to. A musician obviously engulfed by his love of irony and an actor doomed to live down the fact that no one could figure out whether he was being ironic or not, Folds and Shatner perhaps deserve each other and to make this album together. With a track record of one great song in (now) more than ten tries, what they don’t deserve is your funding for future endeavors.