"Shatner Claus" Depends on How You Feel about Shatner
William Shatner’s 1968 album The Transformed Man became famous for his over the top vocal performance. He was every bit the ham he was on Star Trek, and on record it was amazing, but not in the way he intended. Shatner sounded B-movie crazed as opposed to genuinely crazed. Since then, I hear every Shatner album as a way of explaining away his laughable effort. He tries to emulate the madness of The Transformed Man as a way of saying, See? I was just doing a crazy thing back then. But the performances aren’t the natural extension of the character in the songs he sing/speaks. They’re extensions of his public persona—one where he was always in on the joke.
My skepticism toward Shatner Claus isn’t because it’s a novelty album. The pantheon of novelty Christmas music is a proud one, and one of my early favorite Christmas songs was Yogi Yorgesson’s “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas,” I’d argue that all Christmas songs are novelty songs at their core as they’re specifically tailored to suit very specific, temporary market conditions.
No, the problem is that it’s not weird enough. It’s theatrically weird. Shatner Claus is a pose that’s an extension of a persona that’s a layer of insulation between the real Shatner and us. The Transformed Man worked as folk art because the subject of the art was ultimately its maker, Shatner, more than the thoughts expressed in the songs. Why did he make the choices he made? Why did he think they were good ideas? Shatner Claus is also all about Shatner, but it’s not accidentally revealing since it only lets us see Shatner as he’d like to be seen, as the character he became during appearances on The Howard Stern Show in the ‘90s.
Because of that, his new Shatner Claus depends entirely how you feel about his current Shatner persona. If you think it’s funny and sorta cool to hear him share Christmas songs with Henry Rollins, Todd Rundgren, Brad Paisley, Billy Gibbons and more, then you’ll like it just fine. If, like me, you find his unmotivated barking of syllables forced and signifying nothing, there are better new Christmas releases this holiday season.