Just in time for Halloween comes a CD from a guy more likely to inspire a holiday costume than a musical following — William Shatner.
The one-time James T. Kirk of “Star Trek” fame has released an 11-song collection this month, a follow-up to his 1968 spoken-word debut that garnered such critical infamy it became a camp classic.
So it must be asked: Is this a trick or a treat?
“It’s a treat for me,” Shatner, 73, said by telephone from Los Angeles, where he was taping an episode of “Boston Legal,” his latest TV show. “I hope nobody turns a trick on it.”
The new album — slyly titled “Has Been” — once again puts Shatner’s choppy, emphasis-added words to music. But this time he’s penned his own lyrics and tempered the cheese quotient with a few musical friends. Ben Folds, who produced and arranged the new album and co-wrote many of the songs, wrangled guest appearances by Joe Jackson, Aimee Mann, Henry Rollins and Brad Paisley.
As the music veers from lush pianos to soul, from gospel to cowboy twang, Shatner’s lyrics explore, among other things, his fear of aging, the death of a loved one, reconnecting with estranged children and the fickleness of fame.
Take the title track, “Has Been,” in which Shatner wrestles with critics who have called him washed up: “Has been implies failure / Not so / Has been is history / Has been was / Has been might again.”
“I’m standing in front of you with my heart exposed,” Shatner said in the interview. “But it’s time for me to do that, and I did it willingly. If it doesn’t work, it’s my deficiencies.”
As is often the case with Shatner’s projects, the CD seems to forever flit between self and self-parody.
“It’s really interesting musically,” said Garson Foos, president of the Shout! Factory record label, which released the album and is targeting fans of intelligent, alternative rock. “We have modest expectations but we’re hopeful that we’ll exceed them.”
Foos, with his brother Richard, previously ran Rhino Records, a fact that made things a little sticky at first: Rhino had included two of Shatner’s songs on its first “Golden Throats” album — advertised as “embarrassing musical moments from celebrities you thought would know better.”
Shatner’s 1968 album “The Transformed Man” was a gold mine of such moments, a bizarre attempt to meld contemporary pop songs like “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” with excerpts from classic literature like “Hamlet.”
It was a record that launched a thousand titters and more than a few dead-on impressions from comedians mocking Shatner’s start-and-stop, overly dramatic phrasing. Think Kevin Pollak crooning “Mr. Tam-bou-rine maaaan!”
So when the Foos brothers approached Shatner with the idea of a new album, Shatner was wary: “I recall feeling they wanted to see if there was another self-mockery item here — and I’m not going to go there,” he said.
Calling in reinforcementsShatner called in reinforcements. Folds, a friend since the two collaborated on a song for Folds’ “Fear of Pop” album, eagerly signed on — much to the delight of the record company. Then Shatner got spooked.
“I asked Ben, ‘What am I going to write?’ He said ‘Tell the truth.”’
Apparently, Shatner took the advice to heart. In the song “Real,” he warns his fans “just because you’ve seen me on your TV / Doesn’t mean I’m any more enlightened than you.” And in “You’ll Have Time,” he bluntly counsels “Live life like you’re gonna die / Because you’re gonna / I hate to be the bearer of bad news / But you’re gonna die.”
It’s not all gloomy, as one can expect from the Priceline pitchman.
In “I Can’t Get Behind That,” Shatner and Rollins playfully rail against high gas prices, student drivers, leaf blowers and car alarms. Full of mock anger, Shatner offers the line “I can’t get behind so-called singers that can’t carry a tune, get paid for talking, how easy is that?”
Then he pauses, reconsiders: “Well, maybe I can get behind that.”
Shatner has high hopes for the album, even though he knows it may be ridiculed.
“I’d love for it to sell a lot of records,” he says. “If some Philistine wanted to pull a song and make fun of it, that would be all right. I would have accomplished what I set out to do.”
As for whether he expects to give teenybopper artists like, say, Christina Aguilera a run for their money, Shatner is coy.
“I’ve got the same moves,” he said, “but I’m not allowed to show them.”