I still haven't fully wrapped my head around brit-pop. Sure, I flipped through my fair share of Q Magazines back at the dawn of this new millennium, and gave the Manic Street Preachers a decent shake, but Oasis, with their omnipresent wall of singles, always felt like the big box store version of that sound from across the Atlantic. To be honest, I probably based more of my understanding of Oasis on a Mr. Show sketch than I did on their music or any actual biographical information. This is all to say that Mat Whitecross’s recent film about the band was about as eye-opening as it could be for me.
Produced by James Gay-Rees, the same guy who took home a Best Documentary Oscar for Amy last year, Oasis: Supersonic presents not exactly the full history of the band, instead focusing on the first two albums working towards a grand finale: their massive 1996 concert at Hertfordshire's Knebworth House. A BBC article, marking the 20th anniversary of that Knebworth concert, places the ending of Supersonic in context thusly: “Riding high on the success of 1995's (What's The Story) Morning Glory, and a year before they would puncture the bubble with the overblown Be Here Now, the concerts found the band at the peak of their powers.” No wonder Liam and Noel Gallagher, who are listed as executive producers of this doc, were more than happy to open their treasure trove of archival footage for the filmmakers. There’s a lot to love about this film, which is an excellent intro to the band. But let’s get it straight early on that this is a fairly selective look at the peak of the band’s rise “to the toppermost of the poppermost,” but holy hell what a ride those first few years were.
Oasis wrote a lot of great songs, but between Definitely Maybe and (What's the Story) Morning Glory? they managed to put five inarguably Perfect songs on the boards: “Live Forever,” “Supersonic,” “Wonderwall,” “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” and “Champagne Supernova.” Sure, they all have been done to death at every karaoke bar ever, but holy shit that is nothing to even act like you’re sneezing at. The only thing that’s more astonishing than the amount of quality shoehorned onto those two albums is the ease with which it was conjured from nothingness. Apparently Noel wrote “Supersonic,” its entirety, while the rest of the band ate dinner and by dawn the next morning the song had been committed to tape as the version you hear on the album. The Morning Glory sessions were similarly blessed with unspeakable amounts of productivity crammed into a few short weeks, including five of those songs getting laid down in a five day stretch.
This clear level of “make it look easy” genius is why I have no problem with the rock and roll bullshit that Oasis became legendary for, which is thoroughly documented in the film. The one thought that Supersonic made me contemplate more than any other was this: Humility is overrated. Sure they came off the rails sometimes, but their music is going to stand the test of time and they knew it. Toss as many hotel mattresses out of windows as you want, boys, you’ve earned it! Would I wanna be in the same room with them for more than twenty minutes? Not on your life. But that’s the nature of rock and roll, isn’t it? The genre has an incredible ability to tolerate self-absorption, and Liam and Noel still managed to put that machine in tilt. Hard to believe that these two world-class bullshitters managed to write such reflective and melodically gorgeous songs, but there you are.
Even though Supersonic stops short of detailing the inner stresses that would ultimately fracture the band a few times over in the coming decade, the writing's already on the wall in big bold letters. Noel sums up the differences between himself and his brother in simple terms. Liam’s a dog who needs a steady stream of attention, and Noel’s a cat because he’s “a bit of a cunt.” Someone else describes their relationship as “Noel has a lot of buttons, and Liam has a lot of fingers.” It’s the Lennon / McCartney brand of creative tension that leads to greatness, but the Beatles got their amphetamine phase out of the way early on in the bar halls of Germany, while Oasis discovered started snorting meth on stage at The World Famous Whisky A Go Go midway through their meteoric ascent, which... let’s say... complicated things.
When I was younger, casually catching bits and pieces of Oasis’s story through occasional MTV News updates, I remember thinking that the hubris and the brother vs. brother in-fighting was a bummer. As it’s presented here, though, it’s downright entertaining. There are some rough moments of realness, like the audio from a memorably tense phone call from the brothers’ absentee father who is looking to get tickets to a show, but given a good bit of water under the bridge all the crazy shit Liam and Noel did twenty years ago to each other and their band mates is recast as the bumps in the road they were. Supersonic, all said and done, was a genuinely fun film, certainly deserving of all the praise that it got last year, but goes down best if it’s taken with a good-sized grain of salt.