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Renowned for changing their line-ups quicker than most groups change their underwear, UK girlband Sugababes have almost made Fleetwood Mac look like the picture of stability since bursting onto the pop scene with the brilliant "Overload" back in 2000. In the week that the original trio finally released their comeback single and the last all but admitting that the game is over, here's a look at each of their five incarnations from worst to best.
Jade, Amelle & Heidi (2009-2013)
After drafting in former Eurovision entrant Jade Ewen to replace the only founding member, Keisha Buchanan, the final Sugababes line-up became the complete antithesis to everything that the first stood for. Jumping aboard the 'fun in the club' Europop bandwagon, their one and only dismal studio effort, the anything but Sweet 7, saw them transform into shameless hit-chasers. While they spent their last three years focusing more on appearing in tacky reality shows (Dancing On Ice, Splash) than getting their act together. The recent news of their split comes as a relief.
Mutya, Keisha & Siobhan (2012-??)
Having left the band through a toilet window in 2001, Siobhan Donaghy and the rest of the original line-up decided to put their differences aside and join forces again last year. Only a handful of tracks from their unexpected reunion have emerged so far. But if they can keep their squabbling to a minimum, the triumphant Dev Hynes-produced hipster pop of "Flatline" and their classy take on Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools (Drank)" suggests that MKS are more than capable of surpassing their former glories.
Heidi, Amelle & Keisha (2006-2009)
An era of two halves, the third Sugababes line-up picked up where the second left off with a string of brilliant pop singles ("Red Dress," "Easy," "About You Now"), a Greatest Hits collection which confirmed their girlband superiority and a second UK number one album with Change. But they hopelessly lost their way towards the end with a lazy cover of "Here Come The Girls," its dull retro-soul parent album, Catfights & Spotlights, and arguably the death knell for the group, "Get Sexy," a jaw-droppingly bad slice of trash pop which for reasons unknown sampled Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy."
Mutya, Keisha & Siobhan (1998-2001)
Arriving at a time when the charts were flooded with girlbands hoping to fill the Spice Girls-shaped hole in the market, Sugababes managed to emerge as one of the most distinctive thanks to an intriguingly aloof image and an effortlessly cool urban pop sound produced by former Massive Attack and Neneh Cherry cohort Cameron McVey. But despite a wave of critical acclaim, 2000 debut One Touch didn’t exactly set the world alight and following Donaghy’s departure, the group were dropped from their London Records label.
Heidi, Mutya & Keisha (2001-2006)
One of the most remarkable career turnarounds in girlband history, Sugababes Version 2.0 went from the verge of extinction to the top of the UK charts in the space of six months. Comeback single "Freak Like Me," an inspired mash-up of Gary Numan’s "Are 'Friends' Electric" and Adina Howard’s '90s R&B classic, signalled their pop world-conquering ambitions immediately. But despite their new-found commercial success, the trio remained one of the most exciting and inventive acts around, forging a successful partnership with Xenomania before Girls Aloud had even formed and toying with everything from crunk to trip-hop to ambient electronica on their subsequent three albums.
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.