So, this new Beatles song, “Now and Then”. It was pieced together over a period of almost 30 years, using AI to clean up Lennon’s demo vocal, and remove the piano. That kind of stuff is easily doable these days. It’s not perfect, but artfully mixed, and AI solutions for fidelity problems are totally valid IMO. Lennon sounds great on the original track, especially compared to his voice on the previous two 90s “reunion” singles (“Free As A Bird” & “Real Love”).
The song is taken from a cassette demo Yoko Ono gave the three surviving Beatles in the mid-90s, and now Paul and Ringo have finished it (also using some of Harrison’s old guitar parts). Surprise: it sounds like one of the late-late period Beatles songs. All three are close cousins, varying only a few bpm, a minor chord here or a major one there. I like them all to varying degrees, with “Real Love” being my favorite, though not sure any of them is “classic”.
“Now and Then” is nice, if not quite up to the melodic standards of the previous two. It wasn’t produced by Jeff Lynne, and the sound (and mix) are a bit rougher around the edges. Just a bit though; it still sounds like the same band that turned out “Free As A Bird”.
It’s sad sounding. Lennon made a lot of this kind of stuff in the mid-70s, and this ’77 song could easily have fit on one of his solo records. Paul and Ringo actually inject a bit of life into what otherwise could have been, say, a power ballad or voice-piano-orchestra torch song. Still, with Lennon’s AI-powered lead backed by a couple of 80-year-olds, and the ghost of another, it’s hard not to think of it as music made by (close-to) dead men.
Context aside, most of the song is in a minor key, and fairly understated (or as much as you can be with the grafted-on Giles Martin string arrangement). Lennon’s melody isn’t trying to be an earworm, it’s just stating his unadorned debt to his lover. I could imagine the Beatles making an alternate version of this around 1964-65, tempo sped up, John and Paul harmonizing, acoustic guitar, only recently opened up to the possibility of making pop songs that weren’t *just* pop songs. But that’s not what happens here, and the sadness at the heart of this is pretty cool. There is real feeling in “Now and Then”, just not a feeling that necessarily makes me smile.
A lot my reaction is wrapped up in my own life, of course. Aging, losing people you love, and eventually dying yourself. Perspectives change, because we see what the final purpose is: to do as much good as we can, while we still can. For me, it’s my daughter, my wife, our health and happiness. But it could be anything, and in the moments where I shrink in fear at the possibility I could ever lose what I have, I remember that even then, I could give whatever else I had to the world, and die with some kind of peace.
If that wasn’t heavy enough, “Now and Then” reminds me that one day, we won’t even have the Beatles. Heck, we only have half of them now. Each day, we’ll move further and further away from lives and times that essentially taught me what music could do; opened my heart, made me do crazy things like move to California and try to be a rock star.
And when the Beatles go, a whole lot of other stuff goes. Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, George Lucas, George Clinton, “the 60s”, the birth of youth culture, my aunts and uncles, my mom and dad, and the bedrock of my childhood. And then, inevitably, it’s my generation’s turn.
So yeah, this new Beatles song is kinda depressing. What’s interesting is that it doesn’t really reference any particular old era of their music (unless you count their 90s reuinion as a “period”), and it’s not trying to recapture something (other than having dead people perform lol). It sounds like an honest effort to turn an old demo into something new, “alive”, however melancholy. And if it is a kind of goodbye from Paul and Ringo on behalf of the group (“and ourselves”), well, I guess that’s their right and priviledge to do while they still can. I love those guys; warts, random scattered lameness– but, doesn’t that apply to anyone who can look themselves in the mirror?