Not a masterpiece, but an appropriate final chord. This is the first assessment of many music journalists Now and Thenthe latest and very last Beatles song presented this afternoon.
All four band members are represented on the single, including the deceased John Lennon and George Harrison. A demo recording of Lennon from the 1970s formed the basis for the song, supplemented with an archive recording of Harrison and the bass and drums of the two living Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
Listen to the result here:
Then in the 90’s Free as a Bird and Real Love were released, the band had also tried to polish this song enough for release, but the poor quality of Lennon’s recording made that impossible at the time. With AI, his voice could now be extracted from the noise and distorted piano, thanks to technology that director Peter Jackson developed for his Beatles docuseries Get Back.
Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono and his son Sean gave their blessing to the project. Giles Martin took care of the orchestral arrangements, just as his father George had done for the band at the time. To ensure confidentiality, the musicians were not told that they were working on a brand new Beatles song.
“Should we have done this?”, McCartney wonders out loud in a mini-documentary made about the song. “But then I kept thinking, ‘Wait a minute. If I could have asked John, ‘Do you want us to finish this last song of yours?’, I’m sure his answer would have been ‘Yeah!’ would have been. He would have thought it was crazy.”
The documentary about the song:
“Tears ran down my cheeks when I heard it,” reveals BBC critic Lauren Laverne. “It’s simply beautiful.”
“Now and Then could have been cheap and exaggerated, but instead it became a tortured, intimate, mature confession,” concludes music magazine Rolling Stone. “You’ll hear why Paul never forgot this song all these years and why he never let it go.”
Other critics are less impressed. “Maybe mean, but the real question is of course whether it comes close to the enormous legacy of the Beatles as a band and solo artists. Of course not,” says trade magazine Variety. “But it’s still an unexpected delight that wraps up the group’s last loose end.”
‘Stubborn belief in oldest friend’
Alexis Petridis recalls that George Harrison judged harshly in the 90s: “Fucking rubbishthe guitarist said Now and Then. The Guardian’s music journalist disagrees with him. “Musically, Harrison’s verdict is difficult to follow: as a gloomy piano ballad it will never rise above Strawberry Field Forever of A Day in the Lifebut it’s better than Free as a Bird of Real Love.”
Many critics see the song as McCartney’s final rapprochement with his old writing buddy Lennon, with whom he fell out for a while after the Beatles broke up. “He clearly heard the band’s entire history in this song, in a cast-off that everyone else wanted to forget,” psychologizes Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield. “It is a tribute to his tenacious faith in his oldest friend.”
Others do not need such a deeper soil. Oasis singer Liam Gallagher calls the song heavenly and heartbreaking and says that as far as he’s concerned, the Beatles can do no wrong: “The Beatles could shit in my purse and I’d still put my mints there.”
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