I’m not entirely sure what Shatner was trying to accomplish with The Transformed Man. What may have been an attempt to be truly artistic turned into a largely mocked and campy outcome. The album is Shatner unleashed and I think Shatner is at his best on a leash.
Shatner’s performances of “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” offer a peculiar glimpse into this man’s mind. Why these two songs and why this style of delivery? I can’t answer those questions with any certainty. Perhaps he believes his voice to be so great that just speaking the lines of a song will entice fans to buy an album. But I don’t think that’s it. I truly think he’s an artist trying to experiment with something, but no one quite gets what he’s trying to do. Maybe not even him.
At least he had a good sense of humor about it. He parodied his own style in Priceline commercials and even more brilliantly in the movie Free Enterprise where he performs a monologue from Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar set to rap.
So, 38 years after The Transformed Man, someone named Ben Folds must have wanted to try the experiment again. And this time, it worked beautifully. Though not for everyone (i.e. my wife), Has Been is an excellent album and represents what every vanity project like this should be. The album is full of poignancy, heart, and substance that many albums today don’t have.
This would not have worked without the modern-day musical genius brain that the body of Ben Folds houses. Only Ben Folds could find Shatner at the low point of self-mockery and reach out his hand and put together a piece of work like this.
The entire album is worth a listen, but my personal favorites are “Together,” “Common People,” “Real,” and “That’s Me Trying.”
Sometimes I think about what if I had the chance to put together an album with a well-known musical artist. What topics would I want to hit? What message would I want to convey? What would my album be about? I could only hope that it would be as good as Has Been.