James Bond:
Into the Bondiverse.

 Film  No Time To Die is by far my favourite of the Bond films starring Daniel Craig and perhaps the Bond I've enjoyed the most since The World Is Not Enough.  Completing the narrative arc for this version of the character, it has some absolutely spectacular action sequences and an incredibly appealing story.  On top of that it has a genuine wit with Craig demonstrating his dry comedic abilities more than any of the previous instalments; if Casino Royale felt like it was on the coattails of Bourne, this has something of the comradeship of the M:I series.

At the end of the credits, we're told James Bond will return, and of course he will, but part of me wishes that he wouldn't.  Or at least we'd be gifted a series of spin-off films with Lashana Lynch's new 007 working with this M, Q and Moneypenny aided by Ana de Armas's Paloma in the Felix Leiter role alongside whatever reboot MGM et al have in store.  There's no need for a "Jane Bond" or whatever.  Rest the role for a bit and continue the franchise with this new family of characters, preferably scripted by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.  If not on film, a TV series would do.

But how does this iteration of Bond fit within the overall franchise?  Forgive me if I'm betraying my ignorance with any of the following, but the Broccolis have always seemed to have been a bit ambiguous as to the relationship between the different Bonds.  In some cases the intention seems to be that its all the same continuity just with different actors in the role, with continuity references such as Moore visiting his dead wife's grave in For Your Eyes Only and the same M, Q and Moneypenny continuing through different versions.  But were does that leave Dench's M, who straddled Bronsan and Craig?

The idea of "James Bond" being a codename passed down from agent to agent like M and Q and with Moneypenny as the precedent has never sat will with me because of those continuity elements.  I mean I suppose he could also be a Time Lord but that would be quite the (quantum) leap.  As this superb article about continuity explains, producer Michael G. Wilson has said "that the Bond films weren't one big film series but rather a "series of series."  That article suggests that there are perhaps two fictional universes, whatever happens between Dr No and Die Another Day and then Casino Royale onwards.  

I'd go further than that.  Each of the different Bonds happen in alternate realities, that there are various different continuities with their own internal consistent narrative.  In some realities, M, Q and Moneypenny look the same.  In others they don't.  When Moore visits his wife's grave it's because in his universe, he experienced a version of On Her Majesty's Secret Service and that also explains any other call backs.  His Moneypenny looks older because he joined the service later than Connery.  Similarly the Dench version of M who appears with Brosnan is a different person to the one who worked with Craig.

This isn't a new idea.  The Redditor who fairly comprehensively demonstrated that Connery's character in The Rock is supposed to Bond also suggests each Bond actor's tenure as being a story in its own continuity, with Casino Royale being the only time Eon 'officially' rebooted it on screen (they also note that as far as Connery was concerned he was playing Bond in The Rock).  I'd also add that the various literary Bonds and other portrays are part of this prism of endless possibilities as will whatever new version of the character crops up next (and I can't even imagine what that looks like).

Does any of this matter?  No.  But thinking of them as separate continuities will probably make them easier to watch or read with a modern sensibility attuned to franchises with rich mythology.  So there are six different James Bond series, five reboots in total.  With that being the case, perhaps it is time to either rest the character or as I've been hoping for years, to produce fidelity adaptations of the original novels and short stories, set in period, remaking where necessary.  Although I admit doing another Casino Royale right now would be tricky...

The Coffee Collection:
Wimpy, Princes Pavement, Birkenhead.

Twenty Years of Feeling Listless:
Twenty One Touch.

Music  If the pandemic has done anything, it's ruined everyone's sense of timing.  The twentieth anniversary rerelease of the Sugababes's One Touch is actually coinciding with its twenty-first year, thanks to COVID-19 and wanting to create maximum buzz.  Live shows and potential new material were supposed to appear at this time last year, when the album was officially in its 20th year but frankly, no one was in the mood.  Plus Mutya seemed to be having a time of it in terms of her hold on reality in relation to the truthiness of the Qanon conspiracy, although its nice to see she's been around for interviews a bit more.  

The sheer fact of its existence was enough for me to pay the £16 for a copy on Amazon, along with the promise of an extra exclusive disc which isn't even available on their official website.  I hate this sort of thing, especially since there are a couple of previously unreleased demos on there which is an interesting way of repaying the loyalty of fans buying directly from them through the website.  A friend on Twitter has bought a bundle from their online shop which included a signed cd and the Amazon version so he can have everything.  However cool it would be to have their signature on something, I could only really justify having all of the music.

So what do you get for your however much your paying, whomever you're paying it too?  Let's start with the packaging.  The CDs and booklet come in a cardboard tripartite slip cover which means the discs roll out almost as soon as you open it and the text is near impossible to access.  The cover tore slightly as I reached in to get the booklet, which was wedged pretty solidly at its end of the envelope.  Housing CDs in glorified paper is clearly good for the environment, but it also makes the release feel insubstantial.  If audiobooks and the like are still appearing in plastic cases, why is this premium release in a folder which won't even sit properly on the shelf?

The first CD kicks off with a remastered version of the original album in all of its imperious glory.  Perhaps its difficult to judge after twenty years of listening to these twelve tracks but there's no filler, clocking in at forty-eight minutes which feels positively brief at a time when some pop bands are still bloating things out to fill the whole potential duration of a 75 minute disc.  Much as I like Tay-Tay, Lover did not have to be an hour long; a few of the tracks especially later in the album would have made perfect b-sides back when such things existed.

Much has been written here over the years about these vocals but let's go around again.  The liner notes talk about how during the recording sessions, the producers weren't interested in hearing a "perfect" sound and wanted something raw and authentic.  You can certainly hear that in the likes of Real Thing, Same Old Story or even the title track when MKS are singing individually.  But in the harmonies, some kind of ancient magic is invoked as the three original band members create a truly unique sound, especially in polyphonic moments, as happens in New Year, when one of the voices breaks out into a different, but complementary key.

The rest of the set, including Amazon bonus, is split into four types of track: B-sides, previously unreleased demos, new remixes and contemporary remixes.  One Touch was released with a bonus track in Japan and Don't Wanna Wait is programmed directly after the end of the original album.  Not a cover of the Paula Cole track, it crashes in after the perfectly pitched final bars of Run For Cover.  Of a piece with Same Old Story or Lush Life, it's fine and would probably make sense earlier in the track listing but its surprising to know that for a number of Sugababes fans this is how the album concluded, on a slightly dated sounding fade out.

This and the next few will be familiar to those of us who bought all of the iterations of the CD singles.  Between its two versions, New Year had three non-album tracks, Sugababes on the Run, Forever and Little Lady Love although the version featured here is previously unreleased, the single version turning up on CD2 for some reason.  Run is the catchiest of the three and perhaps would have fitted soundly on the album but all four betray a certain generic sound which probably explains their lack of inclusion.  Good enough but not enough to justify chiselling through any of the commandments on the sacred tablet.

As the liner notes indicate, forty demos were whittled down to the twelve selections which appear on One Touch and other selections appear on the final four tracks from CD1 and the first two on the Amazon bonus.  They're all obviously quite rough and betray how the sessions must have proceeded as the producers tried to work out what they had in front of them and how their voices could be best utilised.  Some are outright failures.  Always Be The One attempts to bend the harmonies around a filler ballad from the Roberson and Luckett era of Destiny's Child.  All Around The World is a S/A/W revival and not in a good way.

Of the rest, Girls Night Out Is a hoot, opening with chatter between the 'babes on olde fashioned mobiles and probably would have been a stonking single from the second album with this line-up had One Touch actually sold enough copies back in the day and the animosity between the band members hadn't come to a head (which Keisha's suggested recently might even have been manufactured).  But none of them really coalesce, though again that might be because some of the more placeholder sounds and lyrics would have been replaced with something more original.  Nevertheless its fascinating to have them.  This is our Beatles Anthology.

On the other hand, sorry to say, with one or two exceptions, CD2 is pretty superfluous to me as are the final four tracks on the Amazon bonus disc.  I'm so old now.  Opening with five new remixes of songs from the original album by people twenty years younger than me might have heard of, the rest are repetitive remixes from the original sessions during the period when the producers were formulating "the sound".  None of these three versions of Overload are a patch one the original.  The "acoustic" mix of Promises is just the original with the base boost turned off.  Most just seem to bury the vocals, which is surely the reason to be here? 

The weirdest inclusion is a "non-Christmas" version of New Year, which currently has nearly nine hundred thousand plays on Spotify, presumably fans wanting to know what "non-Christmas" actually means.  Not much, as it turns out.  Otherwise identical to the original, it simply replaces "at Christmas" in the chorus with "last Winter" which just sounds wrong.  This originally surfaced on a promo CDR with the more festive single track, created perhaps with the thought of giving radio stations an alternative version to play outside of December despite the fact the title very much evokes the season of goodwill.

Despite my reservations about the packaging, this is a very nice item to own, especially in the Amazon iteration with the bonus disc housed in a sleeve designed to evoke the London Recordings singles of the 1950s.  If you're a casual who already has the original album, you're probably just as well sticking with the Spotify stream of the rerelease.  To my ears, the remaster of the original doesn't sound significantly different to the original versions especially through my non-professional audio equipment.  But if you're a die-hard fine, this is an essential purchase, if only for the demos and the liner notes.