William Shatner: starship captain, Bostonian lawyer, Priceline negotiator and … progressive rock artist?
With “Ponder the Mystery,” Shatner earns the latter title, teaming up with Billy Sherwood of Yes fame to create an album that is surprisingly deep and enjoyable. While not without its flaws, “Ponder the Mystery” showcases Shatner’s poetical ability, while truly giving the listener something to think about.
The first half of the album is thoroughly enjoyable. The instrumental “Red Shift” sets a progressive rock tone; fast guitar solos and quick drum beats set the stage for what’s to come. Followed by the profound “Where It’s Gone… I Don’t Know,” this song is where listeners gain their first insight into the nature of the album.
As stated on the media circuit, Shatner explains this album is an extremely personal effort, a vessel to describe his feelings and thoughts on life and his fear of death. This idea cultivates the entire album, to great effect. Shatner’s spoken word delivery is oddly authoritative and soothing, and various artists contribute ubiquitous guitar solos and youthful harmonies.
The title track is the standout song on the album. “Ponder the Mystery” sees Shatner speaking of various items worth pondering, such as the “the drums of war,” “peace’s harmony” and the “deadliness of cynicism.” Between each stanza, Shatner repeats the title of the song in his signature staccato delivery. His awe-inspiring tone mimics his genuine fascination of these topics. Captivating, legitimate and thematically potent, the title track showcases all the positive qualities of the album.
By the eighth track of the 15-track album, “Ponder the Mystery” starts to get repetitive. This criticism isn’t aimed at Shatner’s lyrics, rather the instrumental aspect. The drum beat seems to recycle rhythms from previous tracks, and guitar solos seem to be too familiar, making each performance lose its idiosyncrasy. This repetition is the album’s biggest flaw, as it forces the listener to focus on the repetitive instruments, not Shatner’s lyrics. “Rhythm of the Night” and “Do You See” suffers most from the persistent instrumentals.
Shatner’s lyrical ability is a welcome surprise. The potency of his poetry is profound, and appealing to all ages. At 82 years old, it isn’t a surprise he has these thoughts. Rather, it is his ability to express them that is the album’s greatest strength.
“So Am I” contains a thoughtful, mortal analogy between Shatner and his aging dog; “Sunset” uses the colors of a sunset to describe the beauty of life; and “Where Does Time Go” gives a sensitive look into the finality of death. The album ends on an uplifting note, however, with the song “Alive.” Proving to the audience that Shatner still has plenty of life left in him, “Alive” breaks the album’s thematic monotony with an expression of life and youthful energy. It is the perfect way to end the album, as it neatly showcases Shatner’s larger-than-life, undying character.
It is because Shatner is larger than life that the album is so interesting. Bringing him down to earth, “Ponder the Mystery” exposes Shatner as just another aging human being who is constantly confronted with the possibility of death. Of course, this concept isn’t exclusive to old people; anybody can listen to “Ponder the Mystery” and appreciate the concepts Shatner is trying to explain.
Even though it gets repetitive, this flaw doesn’t break the album. Anybody who values expressiveness or profound themes has plenty to like about Shatner’s latest effort. The mortality of the album humanizes Shatner, which is no small feat considering his long and varied career. “Ponder the Mystery” shows that Shatner isn’t resting on his laurels; his creativeness and expressiveness are as sharp as ever, making “Ponder the Mystery” a solid, thought-provoking artwork.