Saturday, December 15, 2018

Review of William Shatner's "Shatner Claus"

I posted this review a few minutes ago on the Sputnik Music website:

Review Summary: Christmas: The Final Frontier; or The Year Captain Kirk Brought the Holiday Cheese

OK, this is awful. But it's also a little bit wonderful. I mean, by any objective measure, this is a putrid LP, an offense to the very notion of music itself. And yet, as I write about it, there's a smile on my face. It's that kind of album. 

We all know William Shatner. Many of us love him. His portrayal of Captain James Tiberius Kirk in the original Star Trek television series and the movies that followed was iconic. He later went on to star in such shows as T. J. Hooker and Boston Legal, to name a few. And if his overly emotive acting style didn't exactly win him any Oscars, it did make him an instantly-recognizable celebrity. His over-the-top interpretations of such classic songs as "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Mr. Tambourine" on his 1968 foray into the world of music The Transformed Man only added to his reputation. No one was really sure if he was in on the joke or not -- he seemed to be, but he never admitted it. Nevertheless, if you ever heard any of the tracks from this LP, one thing is for sure -- you never forgot them. (His 1978 cover of Elton John's "Rocketman" at a science fiction film award ceremony was equally memorable.)

To best of my knowledge, Shatner's first attempt at Christmas music occurred on a compilation album called The Sounds of Christmas 2009. The LP presented artists such as Huey Lewis and the News, Stephen Bishop, and Styx's Dennis DeYoung, flaunting holiday tunes alongside Shatner's characteristically spoken-word-style version of "Good King Wenceslas". Shatner's entry ends the album, probably because there was nowhere to go after that. I have to admit, though, that this effort has been one of my favorite holiday-music discoveries of the last decade. All I can say by way of description is that he really brings the character of The Page Boy to life.

So now it's 2018, and we have a whole LP full of Shatner Christmas music. I can see why the record company took a shot at this. (Well, money.) And they even threw in a bonus by having guest appearances on almost every track. Henry Rollins, Brad Paisley, Todd Rundgren, Rick Wakeman and even Iggy Pop join Big Bill to spoof some of the most famous Christmas carols of our age. How could you go wrong?

The main problem with Shatner Claus, though, is that it's overkill. Where one Shatner Christmas cover is kind of funny, a whole album's worth is painful. It's the kind of LP you might bring to your relatives' house just to torture them. They'll laugh through the first song, grimace through the second, and by the third, they'll be ordering you to "Turn that crap off!"

Some of the songs here are just forgettable. A couple are truly heinous. This might be the worst version ever recorded of "Little Drummer Boy" (and that's saying something). And "Feliz Navidad" sounds like it's being performed by a Mexican drug lord, as played by a Damon-Runyanesque Chicago gangster. (I think it's that little pause between the "Feliz" and the "Navidad" that produces this effect.)

The musicians, and many of the guest stars, play it straight throughout, but there's only so much they can do. Shatner is Shatner, and a ham sandwich is a ham sandwich. I think the reason that "Good King Wenceslas" worked where many of these tracks don't is because the former allowed Shatner to play against himself. "Wenceslas" is actually a dialogue between two characters, the King and the Page Boy, and although there's still plenty of hotdogging going on there, our hero actually did create two pretty distinct characters. The songs on Shatner Claus, however, mostly just end up with Shatner chewing the curtains, the scenery and most of the recording equipment, with his guest stars either playing it as straight as possible, or going over the top with him (I'm looking at you, Henry Rollins!)

As an added complaint, with a mixture of greed and general disinterest, this is another one of those albums where the order of the songs listed on the CD back cover is wrong. It reverses the order of "White Christmas", featuring Judy Collins, and "Feliz Navidad", featuring Dani Bender and Malicopa, in an unforgivable gesture of "What do we care, you already paid for the album!"

So yeah, this is a pretty terrible LP. And yet, I'm still wearing that grin that I just can't wipe off. So I've rated it 2.5 stars -- zero because it's so absolutely dreadful, five for the awesomeness of Shatner and all of the joy he's given us over the years, (which averages out to 2.5 stars), minus a half-star for Cleopatra Records just not giving a ***. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Rating: 2 of 5 stars