Oasis' 'Supersonic' Doc Spotlights Their Chaotic Rise to Fame, Charming Arrogance & Fraternal Rivalry

Michel Linssen/Redferns
Oasis

The Oasis rock doc is in U.S. theaters just one night only.

It would seem fitting that Supersonic, the new documentary about British band Oasis, is only showing in America today (Oct. 26) for one night only. Oasis didn't quite break America, but fared substantially better here than the U.K. press would have you remember. The British media claim ownership over the band, and rightfully so. After all, they're the ones that have been left high and dry by brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher, following years of their sensational terrible twosome quotes, hilarious spats and iconic images. Forever the Mr. Opinion of it all, Noel always blamed Liam's mouth as the reason for their lack of U.S. success. It does baffle that a band who had such seismic impact in one country can be just a footnote in another. The Gallaghers from Burnage in Manchester were the last truly epic subjects of pre-internet British rock n' roll. Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys and Pete Doherty and Carl Barat of The Libertines have tried, but how could anyone really follow suit? 

At least in Britain, there's always been a greater context by which to understand Oasis. The Britpop years and the competition it spurned with other bands such as Blur, Suede and Pulp spawned a glut of entertaining egos, the rise of London as the coolest city in the world aroused feelings of glorious pride, the evolution of New Labour and eventual election of Prime Minister Tony Blair created a marriage of pop culture and politics, the rebirth of the It Girl (examples included Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Meg Matthews, Patsy Kensit, Kate Moss, et al.) resulted in the meeting of the underclass with the fashionable hoi polloi. 

Beyond all that ephemera, however, was the true background that birthed the Manchester five-piece, completed by Paul 'Bonehead' Arthurs on guitar, Paul 'Guigsy' McGuigan on bass, and Tony McCarroll on drums. With the release of 1994's Definitely, Maybe came one of the boldest statements of working class mentality; a boozy, cigarette-laced cocktail of a few lads' boredom juxtaposed with a carpe diem "mad fer it" recklessness. Liam describes their overnight success in the film by likening the band to a Ferrari. Eventually the wheels came off. The very lyrics of "Supersonic" itself are almost prophetic in retrospect: “Feeling supersonic, give me gin and tonic/You can have it all but how much do you want it?”

For an American audience, then wrapped up in post-Nirvana landfill (Hootie And The Blowfish, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Whale, etc), the mysterious alchemy that forms Noel and Liam's fractured bond is perhaps the most digestible focus, and it forms the backbone of wider interest all these years later. Brotherhood brought them together, just as it would eventually drive them apart. “Just lads from a council estate," says Noel at the film's start. “Head cases.” 

The film documents their unlikely fate via manager Alan McGee head of Creation Records, who discovered Oasis at King Tut's, a tiny venue in Glasgow in Scotland on May 31, 1993. He tells me his thoughts on the movie and is a man often of few (nevertheless emphatic) words. “It's great," he says. "But the '90s were insane and no film is going to capture that in reality.” He's right. The film, directed by Mat Whitecross (Ian Dury biopic, Stone Roses film) and produced by Asif Kapadia (Amy, Senna), is essentially about the Gallaghers' fraternal spark. They could have been any two brothers at any point in history, including "Abel and Cable" as Noel says to Liam at a backstage room in the film's opening minutes, referring to the Biblical Cain and Abel. They were, fortunately and also unfortunately, Noel and Liam Gallagher.

Noel, Liam, Bonehead, McGee, mother Peggie Gallagher and other sideline figures narrate over never-before-seen footage from their nascent period, including Noel's first job as a roadie, the band's first gig, a whirlwind trip to Japan, and studio outtakes from the making of Definitely, Maybe and (What's The Story) Morning Glory?, including a gut-wrenching acoustic version of "Live Forever," their breakthrough single. It was written by Noel to the general surprise of everyone who'd ever known him. Throughout there isn't a single mention of the word 'Britpop.' There is no alluding to the band's notorious rivalry with their contemporaries Blur. There's zero assessment of their eventual demise in 2009. No mention of any album beyond their first two, not even 'Be Here Now', with its 8-minute sprawling lead single "D'You Know What I Mean?" Noel's visit to 10 Downing Street? Nothing. Liam's band Beady Eye? Nope. There's not enough about the women in their lives, aside from their mother and Maggie their tour manager. “God bless that woman,” says Noel at one point.

The narrative vision of the film is to explore the heart of the whole phenomenon, one that took the founding members from signing off the dole to playing the biggest concerts of the decade within two and a half years. Their Knebworth gigs in 1996 saw them play to a third of a million punters, the footage of which bookends the documentary. The lyrics of "Columbia" (“I can't tell you the way I feel, because the way I feel is oh so new to me”) have an eerie resonance all these years later. With that it becomes a film for anyone with a faint interest in eccentricity, dreaming, and dynamic/destructive creative partnerships; it takes in the difficulties of recording their first album, lineup changes, an infamous incident when they were chucked off a ferry en route to Amsterdam and eventually deported because Liam joined in a punch-up, and more. It's a comedy of errors. “We weren't the best musicians in the world but we had spirit,” says Liam.

Much of it will be lost on U.S. audiences: The voiceovers of then-peak British broadcasters such as Jo Whiley and Chris Evans; Liam's confessions that he grew up concerned with little other than weed, music and Greggs, a bakery store renowned for its sausage rolls; the accents. But the humor is universal. Regaling stories of their first time in L.A., they reveal that they'd mistaken crystal meth (“ninja speed,” said Liam) for cocaine just before an opportune gig at the Whisky a Go-Go on Sunset Strip, a mistake that almost split the band up, but ensured chaos at any rate. During the mounting tension Bonehead is behind the screen commenting: “I don't mind having a dig at anything [i.e., trying any substance], as long as by half ten at night I can have a cuppa tea and go to bed.” Unfortunately, the side effects of crystal meth didn't allow that. 

The charmed arrogance is here in spades too. Noel opining that he knew "Some Might Say," a single off their second record, “would be Number 1 before I even wrote it.” Footage from recording the debut shows him writing "Supersonic" in the time it took everyone in the room next door to eat a Chinese takeout. The evidence here of how little time it took to make their record-breaking second album is genuinely mind-blowing. Noel in particular saves his arrogance with a heightened self-awareness time and again. Before performing "Wonderwall" he introduces it as “another song with shit lyrics.” Of his relationship with Liam: “Liam's like a dog, and I'm like a cat. I'm a bit of a bastard.”

Bonehead, the third wheel to Liam and Noel but arguably responsible for the band's set-up, tells me he's off to Berlin tomorrow with Liam. “We've got two screenings and a load of press, so should be fun,” he says. The film gets his and Liam's ringing endorsements. Noel, on the other hand, has been very quiet throughout the film's promotion. “As Liam said,” offers Bonehead, “Talking about it all was kind of like therapy. Seeing it on the screen was emotional, probably the first time I really sat and thought, 'Wow, we did it.' It was all so fast at the time. It made me want to out and do it all again.” It's that humbleness among years of braggadocio that touches the heart the most towards the film's climax -- and something that continues to render them unpredictable.

Whether Oasis will reform remains to be seen. Strong rumors suggest they'll return to Manchester's Etihad Stadium next year for that eventual reunion, one that neither Noel nor Liam have denied. In the meantime, the closing scene of the band playing "Champagne Supernova" to that fathomless sea of believers is enough to give you chills. That's before Noel's modern day perspective kicks in. According to him, the achievement was that of those 2.6 million people who applied for Knebworth tickets, it was “not anything that we did."


THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.