[15 March 2007]
Now that commentary tracks for films and television shows have become so commonplace, it’s natural to look for their equivalents in other media. Annotated editions of books, of course, predate commentary tracks by a large margin, but the DVD’s closest cousin, the CD, is less malleable. There are books about individual albums, like Continuum’s 33 1/3 series, but the multimedia possibilities are typically limited to extensive liner notes or music-video collections on the disc’s flipside.
The new DVD Morning Glory: A Classic Album in Review attempts something different. It’s a documentary about the 1995 album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by the English rock ‘n’ roll band, Oasis—not about the making of that album, mind you, but about the music itself. It functions as a sort of video commentary, with music journalists (from British publications like Q and NME) and some other spare Brits from the music industry going through the album, a smash hit from the glory days of Britpop, track by track.
It turns out to be a smart organizing principle. In fact, the documentary doesn’t really find its focus until they get past the introductory bits and jump into track one (“Hello”), about 10 minutes into the film. It hits its stride with track two, about when you realize even the more devoted Oasis fans are happy to talk about the fact that “Roll With It” sucks (judgments range from “harmless” to “atrocious”).
Hit singles like “Wonderwall” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” spark broad discussion about the band’s popularity and technique (they were massive, they were lads, they stole shamelessly from the Beatles and others), but it’s the deep album cuts that provide less obvious analysis. The title track, released as a single in the US but not in Britain, prompts recounting of the band’s efforts to “break” in America; the goofy “She’s Electric” inspires discussion of Noel Gallagher’s particular style of lyric-writing, which is eventually categorized somewhere between heartfelt and tossed off.
Throughout, the talking heads don’t do much to distinguish themselves. They appear in isolated interviews, not a group discussion, and their names don’t appear often enough to gain a sense of who they are beyond their opinions of Oasis (let’s see, there’s the even-tempered bald guy who prefers Noel’s voice to Liam’s, and the skinny guy who grudgingly admits that some of the songs on Morning Glory are pretty good… collectively, they oscillate between worship and vague disdain). It doesn’t help that they’re all British blokes; there are on-screen quotes from a (male) Rolling Stone critic, but no other input from the other side of the pond or even restroom queue.
Granted, Oasis’s hugeness was most present in Britain (one commentator notes that at one point you could be fairly certain that about one out of every 15 people you passed on the street owned an Oasis CD), and their working-class Britishness was in turn a major factor of their success. But voices from other countries could’ve provided additional perspective. There are certainly shades of US politics when one talking head supposes that Oasis won their chart battle with rivals Blur because people thought they’d “get on” better with Oasis.
A low budget may have precluded a greater variety of voices; certainly it created other limitations. The most obvious is manifested through countless pans over CD covers and shots of generic radio dials: for a DVD, Morning Glory is distinctly lacking in visuals. Video footage of the band turns up, but you can hear the clips scraping up against fair-use time limits. Worse, the fractions of songs are often from concert excerpts—sloppier live cuts that lack the album sheen described in the interviews. This might fit better if anyone talked about the band as a live act, but no one does.
The disc’s only truly notable extra stays in the low-budget realm: a jumbly, mumbly US radio interview with a pre-rivalry Oasis and Blur. It’s strictly audio only which, given the other aspects of the DVD, suggests that the interview may be readily available for free elsewhere. Regardless, it’s an amusing novelty that even fans will probably only explore for a fraction of its 15-minute running time.
It’s those fans who will be interested in the project as a whole, which feels like an informative audio commentary in search of a proper medium. In the end, the DVD doesn’t have many advantages over, say, a book about an album. The truly dedicated may want to cue up the Morning Glory CD, Dark Side of the Moon style, before hitting “play”.