Not Far Out Enough
It is a musical voyage home for Shatner as these songs about space return him to his spiritual and stardom roots. First actual song is second track, Bowie’s Space Oddity, and with such colossal and memorable quality in the original, any version, especially such a lethargically spoken and emotionless reading as Shat’s, risks being pastiche, excusing the platitude. This isn’t the best start and you’re wondering where it will go. In addition there’s a further performance dimension to this problematic concept album: established musicians have provided their support, but does it work at any level? On this track, Richie Blackmore offers some distant licks, but these are just background rock riffs rather than spaced-out jams. However, the range of these guest artists is amazing, for example next track In A Little While featuring Lyle Lovett [!] who gives a concluding vocal, but little else of distinction. Third track Space Cowboy features Brad Paisley and Steve Miller, the pair ripping some proper licks to create a dynamic mood. Even Shatner’s spoken vocal develops some semblance of empathy. Yet as musically [comparatively] enriched as this track is, with Country picking meeting it’s rock opposite in a space time continuum – and it is solar - it’s still essentially humorous. Obviously!
Other musical luminaries attracted by the black hole pull of this album include Johnny Winter, Steve Hillage, Bootsy Collins, Peter Frampton, Sheryl Crow, Michael Schenker, Warren Haynes, Zakk Wylde and Steve Howe. By the time we get to sixth Rocket Man - so quite early on in this 20-track celestial journey - the joke has waned for me. Shatner takes the line long long time as literal notation on the pace and mood of this spoken offering, and then exaggerates it. Spatially soporific. Ninth Spirit in the Sky gets a faithful production repeat of the original with Frampton’s guitar and a female chorus, but Shatner again provides a laboured talkwalk through the easiest of songs to have set alight.
Tenth Bohemian Rhapsody? My goodness this is not very good at all.
So half way through and one has to step outside of the Star Trek references and invoke for relevant reflection another SciFi film - The Day The Earth Stood Still - because we have space stasis in what could and should have been a much richer parody. That Sheryl Crow provides the musical relief in her twelfth track Mrs Major Tom is not surprising because she is the sole vocal artist on that number. It’s a twinkling star in an otherwise darkening universe, until penultimate track Iron Man where the metal guitar and Shatner’s growling reveal what might have been.
My point is we could have expected more from the mind-meld of such musicians and the known witty entity of Shatner’s post-ST activities. The juxtaposition hasn’t worked consistently enough here: it needed to be more ostensibly ‘musical’ or more far out into comic-cosmic space.