[12 November 2007]
Oasis has achieved what will hopefully be a mid-life revival in popularity. After the ubiquity of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? their visibility dwindled to mere blips like a vocal-less track on the Snatch soundtrack which, at least stateside, went largely unnoticed. This is certainly not all the fault of Noel and Liam Gallagher, although Noel will at least cop to some indulgence and laziness in the wake of mega-stardom. Liam is characteristically unapologetic. The fans failed Oasis and never the other way ‘round. In any event a decade after their defining album Oasis seemed to reemerge, at least critically. Don’t Believe the Truth was hailed as a return to form and the band returned to high profile festivals and a massive tour. And now that tale can be, to some extent, told.
Anyone with even the most cursory understanding of Oasis will not be surprised by anything in this film. From the outset, the focus is squarely on the foul-mouthed, contentious Gallagher brothers. Noel and Liam are tired of talking about each other, tired of talking about their history, tired of talking about their band. And yet they don’t really stop talking throughout. The new lineup sits quietly and lets the brothers speak. They have matching haircuts and wardrobes and sometimes the grainy black-and-white cinematography makes the group all but undistinguishable. Another perennial source of chagrin for the poor Gallaghers. This all bears mentioning because like their “reluctance” to discuss themselves, they both continually assure us things are as good as they’ve ever been.
Filmmaker Baillie Walsh uses an Oasis world tour as the setting for his documentary. In the band commentary Noel explains that Walsh was making a video for “Let There be Love” and was so pleased with the footage he was getting he convinced the band to let him tag along in the pursuit of something bigger. This explanation goes a long way to pointing out the problems with this documentary. It is shallowly stylish, like any number of music videos. The hackneyed black and white attempting to frame the band in some sort of timelessness (enhanced by designer retro fashion) or just a callow swipe at I am Trying to Break Your Heart. The real difference being that film caught Wilco when there was a lot to tell and this gives us a very workaday Oasis. In a bonus Q&A with Noel someone jokes about the disastrous Be Here Now tour which he says he can’t remember. Maybe that would have been more enlightening to look back on.
As the tour drags on Noel becomes impatient with Liam, and Liam becomes impatient with everything else. Many cigarettes and a fair amount of alcohol are consumed. Gem and Andy and Zak are impeccably reticent. As the boys wear down in interview after interview the film gets a Meeting People is Easy vibe but with less sympathy. The Gallaghers clearly love the attention, or they would actually shut up, so their exasperation seems thin and phony. When Noel says that he and Liam are least interested in their relationship and then subsequently bitches about Liam in every interview it doesn’t add up. When Liam makes fun of Pete Doherty it seems like self-satire. He no longer appears a snotty youth but a crotchety elder statesman of rock.
Despite all this, I love Oasis. Everyone knows that the Gallaghers are jerks, they also happen to write a lot of very good rock songs. Unfortunately this film takes that part for granted. There is painfully little concert footage in this tour documentary. The quick glimpses of the band masterfully tearing through material new and old always leaves you wanting more. For that there is of course the second disc Manchester show but too much of this package seems designed to distract from the paltry main-course.
Walsh and Oasis must have felt that another concert DVD was not unique and not worth doing. Based on the Manchester show included, that would have been preferable. The band plays a good career-spanning set, focusing mostly on the first two albums and Don’t Believe the Truth. Despite Liam’s protestations the band seems to agree with critical consensus. Or they just know what people want. Oasis is a very savvy rock outfit making the difficult step into sustained relevance. While this is admirable, it is hardly fascinating. The speed and initial excitement have worn off, but they have not been forced to change their game. Lord Don’t Slow Me Down ironically shows a band becoming more accomplished and less exciting.