WARNING: The review you are about to read was written by a musical moron. That is, by the way, my standard caveat. Having grown up on a steady diet of showtunes, Top 40 and Bad 1960's White People Music (Mitch Miller! Steve and Eydie! Up With People!), I am woefully unqualified to judge anything as "cool" or "uncool" unless it resides firmly at one or the other end of the spectrum. And frankly, if it hadn't been for the stray Ella LP slipped onto the phonograph stack or my cool Uncle George's lifesaving, intermittent interjection of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles (kind of musical triage, now that I think about it), I might not even be able to discern that much.
But even a musical moron knows the instant she hears One For The Ages. There's something visceral about hitting the sweet spot that anyone can see: that piece of art that reaches across the room and grabs you by the heart; that novel that seems to be reading you; and that song...oh, that song...
As the person who turned me on to Has Been put it, "It's oddly compelling, isn't it?" You got that right. With songs about his dead wife floating in the swimming pool, the off-again relationship he has with an estranged daughter and arrangements that make you wish the word "eclectic" was not so overused as to make it useless in defining this, Has Been is odd to the nth degree. And yet, I have been unable to remove the CD from my car player since I put it in a week ago.
The outrageous success of this album is probably due in no small part to Ben Folds, whom the kids tell me is the opposite of a musical moron. I mean, I heard William Shatner's first go-round and all I can say is that I ain't putting 'Windmills of Your Mind' on a mix tape anytime soon. Still, William "Bill, to you, Ben" Shatner's honesty is pretty staggering, especially in light of the rather difficult truths that make up his life.
My current favorite cut is 'Real,' the last track on the album. It's weirdly humble and pompous all at once. Shatner talks his way through it, as he has every track I've ever heard him on since 'Windmills,' but damn if that boy doesn't have some fierce rhythm, all the same.
Maybe that's the appeal: full-on truth, yes, but also a resounding respect for form. Say what you want about the guy, but I think he gets it. And he digs those kindred souls who also get it, even though their own truths may manifest themselves in vastly different ways.
Before I heard the album, I'd have been hard-pressed to come up with William Shatner and Ben Folds as the perfect people to make beautiful music together. Now that I have, I just can't wait to see what they come up with next.