“You can sail with me in my yellow submarine.” —from “Supersonic”
“So I’ll start a revolution from my bed.” —from “Don’t Look Back in Anger”
“And all the roads we have to walk are winding.” —from “Wonderwall”
“Love is a litany. A magical mystery.” —from “The Shock of the Lightning”
“The fool on the hill and I feel fine.” —from “D’You Know What I Mean?”
There are two types of people in this world: those who love Oasis (disambiguation: an English rock band, 1991-2009) and those who vehemently dismiss them as Beatles wannabes (not that the band ever claimed otherwise). Then there are two other types of people: those who love a band’s music—and only their music—and those who are obsessed with everything that band is or does, on stage and off—what brand of cigarettes and alcohol they prefer, who started the barney on that overnight ferry to Amsterdam, what the boys ate for dinner, who’s shagging whom, et cetera.
Mat Whitecross’ bracing documentary Oasis: Supersonic caters to both sets of fans with equal relish, although it never really gets into the breakup that ended it all (and that’s probably just as well; the band seemed to be splitting up all the time anyway, or hobbling its way back together). Romantic relationships don’t get much of a look-in. The only influential woman in the story seems to be their lovable mum Peggy, who raised her three sons singlehandedly after finally shedding the boys’ abusive dad. But the epic sibling rivalry, between guitarist and primary songwriter Noel Gallagher and his younger brother Liam, the band’s sneering lead vocalist, is there in all its unabashed, unprintable glory.
“Noel has a lot of buttons, Liam has a lot of fingers. It’s that simple,” observes a member of the band’s management team. Noel’s dog and cat analogy works pretty well too.
There’s a powerful connection there, though. Noel could crank out a song, give it to Liam for the first—and only—time, and Liam would go into the recording studio and nail the vocal in one. As such, “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?,” their record-breaking follow-up to 1994’s “Definitely Maybe,” was recorded in mere days rather than months. Noel found he could also sing, but only after his volatile sib began wandering off stage in the middle of gigs, the crystal meth kicking in again. Various drugs are in plentiful supply in the film, as are the rock-hard egos and the tantrums and the bust-ups, but so is the marvelous musicianship and the songs that made them huge. From their debut single, the titular “Supersonic,” written in the time it takes half a dozen blokes to eat a Chinese meal (about ten minutes), to the sublime “Wonderwall,” to “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” “Champagne Supernova,” “Some Might Say,” “Cigarettes & Alcohol,” “Slide Away,” “Live Forever,” “Morning Glory,” “Talk Tonight,” and the masterful “The Masterplan”—favorite tunes that’ll stop the clocks dead in their tracks.
In Oasis: Supersonic, “the biggest band in the world” according to Noel—whose members also included Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs (rhythm guitar), bass player Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan, and Tony McCarroll on drums—get to tell their story in their own words. The film opens and closes at England’s Knebworth Festival, a colossal outdoor venue in the English countryside which drew 250,000 fans for two back-to-back concerts in 1996 with tickets selling out in minutes. Two and a half years earlier its young headliners, ambitious, outspoken toughs from Manchester, had gone from signing on (the dole) to signing with (Creation Records). Supersonic is a pretty fair description of their subsequent rise to fame.
Oasis: Supersonic tells a remarkable story, and it’s a blast. Expressed through a creative barrage of artful framing techniques, fruity language, and stellar concert footage awash with seething seas of reverent fans, Whitecross’ tribute is visually arresting, phenomenal sounding, funny and informative.
It does exactly what it says on the tin.
(c) 2016 David N. Butterworth