Portrait of an artist who’s still got it
As a lifelong INXS fan, I’ve always been partial to“Elegantly Wasted,” the lead single from the band’s 1997 album of the same name. Not only is the song notable for being the last single of the band featuring frontman Michael Hutchence to receive any sort of notoriety, but also is one of the only INXS songs to contain an Easter egg. It was rumored that shortly before the song’s release, Hutchence secretly re-recorded part of the chorus, changing the line “I am Elegantly Wasted” to “I am better than Oasis.” The supposed change was a direct result of an altercation between Hutchence and Oasis lead singer Liam Gallagher, who had charged at Hutchence backstage at the MTV Europe Awards the previous year, coming after him with a fire extinguisher as his own attempt to break up a fight between the former and Gallagher’s brother Noel. While such an act may have made headlines for days, to anyone familiar with Liam Gallagher, it was practically another day at the office for someone born with no f*cks left to give and who spent his entire career with the fans, the press, and the industry in the palm of his hand. To this day, no person has proven more ripe and primed for the documentary treatment than Gallagher; and the recent documentary Liam Gallagher: As it Was shows the artist for who he is: a combination of nitro and glycerin who also happened to be one of the most talented artists of his generation.
In Liam Gallagher: As it Was, documentary filmmakers Gavin Fitzgerald and Charlie Lightening make an attempt to go beyond the headlines and wacky behavior that made the Oasis frontman infamous as he releases his debut solo album, As You Were. No topic is off limits as Gallagher delves into his explosive history with brother Noel, his professional roadblocks, his own personal insecurities, and the journey that led the musician to his life today.
Fan or not, I think it’s safe to say that anyone wanting to check out As it Were is doing so in part to see if Liam is as crazy as he ever was. The answer is: of course. The voice behind “Wonderwall,” “Champagne Supernova,” and (my personal favorite) “Don’t Go Away” maintains his outrageous approach to the world around him, whether it be not giving two cares about his image in the media or ending up in a local pub and unexpectedly crafting a hit song. Age may have hit Gallagher, but as the film shows, his wild personality remains. The singer/songwriter is still one of the most unfiltered artists of all time. We see him joke with David Beckham about how Victoria gave him permission to come to his show and spontaneously tell a small group of random fans seeking an autograph to leave their names with his handler so that he can get them tickets for that night’s gig. It’s the way Gallagher continues to live life that defines him. It pretty much always has. The singer is refreshingly candid about the failure of Beady Eye (the ill advised band he fronted following his departure from Oasis) and the eternally turbulent relationship he maintains with Noel, which remains non-existent to this day. No matter what the situation is, Gallagher cannot help but call it like he sees it 100% of the time.
The flip side of As it Was attempts a look at Gallagher away from the wild persona, revealing a somewhat surprising portrait of a man trying to find himself. There are moments of clarity in introspection from Gallagher where the audience bears witness to someone reflecting on the unconventional road which got him to the present day. Aiding in this journey is a great sense of self-awareness and a willingness towards self-deprecation as the artist takes full responsibility for his role in the life he made — both the good and the bad of it. Moments such as watching his mom playfully scold him for not coming back home as often as he should and take on the massive crowd at Glastonbury as a test of his wills and talent as a solo artist can’t help but humanize him on a variety of levels. If nothing else, As it Were shows how even the most seemingly fearless of artists is mortal and just as prone to the kind of insecurities that plague most everyone.
As a documentary, this portrait does wander a little too much at times, suffering a bit from the lack of natural throughline which holds similar biographical explorations together. In fact, there are times when the whole affair comes across as an elaborate way of selling a record while simultaneously re-introducing its star. Yet thanks to certain moments, including a dizzying look at the publicity side of the business (and Gallagher’s handling of it) as well as the honest candor of the man himself, As it Was has no trouble feeling authentic in the end. It’s hard not to carry the image of the Liam Gallagher from the ‘90s when walking into this film. The guy who claimed illness moments before a live MTV special only to later heckle his brother and bandmates from the audience when they decided to carry on without him and the artist who gave one of the most notorious TRL interviews in cable history (look it up on YouTube right now and treat yourself) where when asked by Carson Daly how he felt, he responded, “Godlike,” is forever cemented in any young person who lived through the decade. As it Were doesn’t make excuses for that Liam Gallagher. What it does instead is show how, regardless of era, Gallagher has never been anything but his true authentic self.