William Shatner’s new two-disc album, Seeking Major Tom blends the best elements of Shatner’s previous albums, Transformed Man and Has Been. Similar to Transformed Man, Seeking Major Tom is a concept album. The concept has to do with uncertainty about the future and without trying to analyze Shatner’s psychological dispositions, it is evident from his books and interviews that he has a trepidation about death and his worry about the loss and emptiness that possibly accompanies that experience. This forms the basis for Seeking Major Tom, with Tom lost in space and not knowing his fate, and with the people of Earth presuming he is gone when he really isn’t. In that way, Major Tom symbolizes our possible status after death. William Shatner’s 2004 album Has Been surprised many with its excellent collaborations. Like Has Been, Shatner wisely surrounds himself with some of music’s most talented performers on his newest album.
I thought the best tracks include “Major Tom (Coming Home)” and I actually prefer Shatner’s spoken word version, with its use of actual NASA sound effects, to the original by Peter Schilling as Shatner’s presentation is more energetic. Also excellent is “Space Cowboy” that conjures images of both Major Tom and Captain Kirk. The guitar work of Brad Paisley and Steve Miller are instantaneously recognizable and incredibly strong. “She Blinded Me With Science” is another winner, both because of the excellent lyrics originally written by Thomas Dolby and Jo Kerr, and the inclusion of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, funkist Bootsy Collins.
Two songs, however, deserve special mention. One is the new version of “Rocket Man” where Shatner gives us a serious and maudlin interpretation of the song, surprising those expecting a repeat of his wild infamous 1970s version. The song works with the story of Major Tom, but also says something about where Shatner as a person may be today. Also worth the listen is Shatner’s original song “Struggle.” Whether it is about a horse or a person is for you to decide. It is an excellent and contemplative song about life cycles, about how we struggle when we are young, how we struggle when we succeed to keep that success, and how we struggle against inevitabilities as we age. It is, possibly, the best song on the album.
Not every song works. As a Duran Duran fan from the 1970s and 1980s, I was looking forward to Shatner’s interpretation of “Planet Earth.” The music is good, but Shatner’s decision to speak/sing the song almost robotically is perplexing and doesn’t really work.
Seeking Major Tom is worth the listen. It is meant to be listened to, like all good concept albums, from start to finish, so be prepared for almost an hour and half musical narrative. If you could commit that amount of time, there will be laughs and tears, and certainly much to think about as we all ponder our uncertain futures.
Watch Shatner discuss recording the album in the video embedded below.
Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on Star Trek’s history, and have been invited to present at venues such as Creation Conventions, ReedPOP’s official Star Trek 50th Anniversary Convention, the St. Louis Science Center, and to the towns of Riverside, Iowa (future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk) and Vulcan, Alberta, Canada. They have appeared in episodes of the Netflix TV show “The Toys that Made Us” and in the Decades Network documentary “Through the Decades: Star Wars 40th Anniversary.” They’ve written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their research has been featured on BBC Radio, WGN News, CBS News, and in the USA Today and WIRED Magazine.