There must be a cosmic confluence of sonic symmetry in the universe when two uniquely compelling albums by unlikely artists are released within a few weeks of each other. One is Music is Better Than Words, vintage tunes from the songbooks of lyrical luminaries such as Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Lowe, beautifully sung by the brilliantly subversive creator of Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane. The other is the latest mind-blowing “concept” album from that redoubtable human pop culture machine, William Shatner, called Seeking Major Tom. Though both cover nostalgic standards in their respective genres of jazz and rock, they are dissimilar in terms of style as well as content, bound mainly by the fact that they are classic examples of timeless music being reverently and refreshingly reinterpreted by modern entertainment titans mainly known for their work in other mediums.
The big difference between Seth and Shat is that Seth can actually sing; he’s been professionally coached by Lee and Sally Sweetland, who pitched notes at Sinatra, and he’s performed live at esteemed venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York. MacFarlane’s debut album was flawlessly produced and lushly orchestrated by American Dad! composer Joel McNeely, and even the album cover evokes the legendary Sinatra/Nelson Riddle collaborations from the hipster heyday of Capital, where it was recorded, right in the Chairman’s original sound studio. As a vocalist, MacFarlane boasts impeccable phrasing and a surprisingly silky, syrupy timbre more reminiscent of Steve Lawrence than Sinatra. The stellar track listing, personally selected by the singer, consists of chestnuts like “It’s Anybody’s Spring,” “Two Sleepy People,” “Laura,” “Something Good,” and the titular tune. Family Guy fans are already familiar with MacFarlane’s musical talents, typically implemented in a more satirical vein, but for strangers to this side of the prince of prime time animation, it’s a richly rewarding revelation. So all you post-space age bachelors take note and heart: next time you bring your date home, throw this baby on the iPod stereo, start a fire and mix the cocktails—you’ll be a “family guy” before you know it…
Which brings us to the Rocket Renaissance Man himself, William Shatner. As someone who makes a living as a writer, my words always fail to adequately convey the ageless appeal of this octogenarian icon. Though of course he will always be best known as Captain Kirk, the Star Trek star has miraculously extended and expounded upon his own miraculous mythology with legendary leading roles in other hit television series (T.J. Hooker, Boston Legal) as well as memorable guest star stints in perennially popular shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Thriller; a string of equally enduring B cult flicks (Impulse, Kingdom of the Spiders, The Devil’s Rain, Incubus, White Comanche, The Intruder, etc., all of which I’ve shown in my annual “Shatfest” Thrillville tribute); his goofy gig as the spokesman for Priceline, of course; and his infamous forays into popular music and spoken word performance (one and the same in his case), perhaps epitomized by his immortal rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” on the 1978 Sci-Fi Awards telecast. On Seeking Major Tom—amazingly, only his third studio album, after 1968’s psychedelic milestone The Transformed Man (featuring his ptakes on “Mister Tambourine Man” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”) and 2004’s incredible “comeback,” Has Been—Shat finally lays that one down for the sake of posterity, even if his already-limited vocal range isn’t quite as effortlessly suave as it once was. Gravelly with age, Shat’s poetic “readings” of slickly produced covers—all linked by a celestial theme—are still incomparable, including Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Peter Schilling’s follow-up “Major Tom,” Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science,” Norman Greenbaum’s hippie anthem “Spirits in the Sky,” Pink Floyd’s “Leaning to Fly,” Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” and most jaw-droppingly Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Once again, Shat’s uncanny ability to completely own any song in any genre via sheer force of personality is stunningly showcased. Amid the rock tunes he tosses in Sinatra’s “Lost in the Stars,” hearkening back to his version of “It Was a Very Good Year” on The Transformed Man. Truly, this man goes where no man has gone before, and will never go again.
Seth MacFarlane: "Nine O'Clock"
William Shatner: "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Will "The Thrill" Viharo is a freelance writer, host of the film series “Forbidden Thrills” at Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge, and creator of the long running cult movie cabaret “Thrillville.” He lives in Alameda, CA with his wife Monica “Tiki Goddess” Cortes and their two cats. His pulp novels “A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge,” “Lavender Blonde,” “Chumpy Walnut,” “Down a Dark Alley," "Freaks That Carry Your Luggage Up to the Room," and the "Vic Valentine, Private Eye" series are now available at http://www.thrillville.net/fiction/index.html