The Beatles performing in 1963
Music history was made on Thursday when the remaining members of The Beatles released what’s been billed as the “final Beatles record”, Now And Then.
Based around a demo recorded by John Lennon in the late 1970s, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and the late George Harrison first tried to bring the song to life in the mid-1990s, though these plans were eventually abandoned due to the quality of Lennon’s original recording.
However, thanks to the “magical mysteries” of AI technology, McCartney and Starr have now managed to unveil a completed version of the song with all four members present on the recording – without the need for session musicians.
The question is, how exactly does this new Beatles track, that’s been almost 50 years in the making, measure up?
Well, reception to Now And Then was initially somewhat mixed, with some critics dismissing the new tune as “a dreary ballad”, while others have hailed it as “glorious”.
The Beatles at the launch of their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967
And so if, like many fans around the world, you’ve been desperate for one last listen to the Fab Four all together, here’s a selection of what the early reviews for Now and Then have been saying…
The Guardian (4/5)
“The additions to a song that was obviously incomplete are seamless… unlike Free As A Bird [another Beatles track released posthumously], where McCartney’s new middle eight jarred slightly against Lennon’s original song – the arrangement is sumptuously tricked out with orchestration, but never stoops to deploying obviously Beatles-y signifiers.
“If you squint, you could just about imagine that it’s the Beatles playing together, which definitely wasn’t true of the mid-90s songs.”
“The song’s beginning will be breathtaking for fans: It opens with a familiar Beatles count-in, following by classic Lennon-esque piano chords and a strummed acoustic guitar, and then – that voice, pristine, singing ‘I know it’s true, it’s all because of you’, and following an unmistakably Lennon melody [...] ;ater in the song, McCartney pays tribute to Harrison by playing a brief slide guitar solo, and bolsters Lennon’s lead vocal in a couple of spots where it presumably faltered or was obscured on the demo.
“The song is similar to and on a par with Free As A Bird and Real Love, and it’s safe to say they’ve made it as good as it probably could be.”
The Telegraph (3/5)
“There has been a great deal of excitement about news of ‘the last Beatles song’, although I suspect that might abate once people have actually heard it.
“Now and Then is a slip of a dreary ballad, only elevated by the quality of the singing and playing, and the spooky notion that it is the work of the greatest group in pop history, reunited across death’s divide.”
The Independent (5/5)
“Here is an emotional resurrection treated with the respect and reverence it deserves. McCartney gives Lennon’s vocals space and prominence, blending his own voice sensitively into that wondrous brotherly harmony we thought we’d never hear afresh again.
“The lyrics – while reading like a typical holding-pattern Lennon love song until greater inspiration stuck – resonate now after 40 years of loss. ‘Now and then I miss you,’ the pair sing, as if nose to nose at the microphone again. ‘Now and then I want you to be there for me, always to return to me.’”
Irish Times (5/5)
“We are living through the twilight of the rock gods. Now And Then reminds us of the void they will leave when they finally exit the stage.
“Though made with the assistance of AI, the punch it packs is entirely human. It’s a 2023 pop odyssey sure to warm the cockles of Beatles fans young, old and in-between. A sad, fab farewell from a group who did so much to redefine rock music in their image and continue to thrill us all these decades later.”
“We can all breathe a sigh of relief that the results are glorious, both as a tribute to Lennon and a song in its own right. A wistful ballad looking back about missing a past relationship, in typical Beatles style, it begins stripped back and then builds to bright, earthy choruses of piano, guitar, strings and harmonised vocals.
“As well as Lennon’s AI-engineered voice, there is a guitar solo comprising snippets recorded by Harrison in the 1995 sessions – so it feels like a real collaboration, despite only two of the band still being alive.”
“Its classic sound and slight graininess make the whole thing feel hyper-nostalgic, too – a song that could easily slot into the existing Beatles canon alongside similarly mellow songs like Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane. This is helped by the content: ‘Now and then, I miss you/Now and then, I want you to be there for me’, ‘I know it’s true/It’s all because of you’ – you can’t hear these words without thinking about the impact of Lennon on McCartney, and the impact the band’s music has had on so many people.”
“Because it is the Beatles, the bar is high, and expectations are higher. That Now and Then will now be included on the reissued 1967-1970, otherwise known as The Blue Album, makes my point. A passable song is simply not good enough when you’re sharing vinyl with Strawberry Fields Forever, A Day in the Life or Let It Be.
“Please listen to it. Form your own opinion. Then, when you’re done, put on The Red Album or Blue or any of the 13 studio records the Beatles made, and you’ll maybe get a tinge of what it feels like to be 7 years old with your dad’s KLH turntable pumping the most glorious music into the living room, perfect songs that simply can’t be matched.”
The Times (3/5)
“Now And Then will find its way on to an expanded edition of the Blue album, the beloved compilation spanning the 1967-70 period [...] Against such masterpieces, what amounts to an incomplete Lennon demo that the rest of the Beatles then worked on simply doesn’t stand up.
“There is something touching about McCartney sticking with a song by his old friend for all these years and there is noble intention in the way AI has been used. But I’m afraid to say this isn’t the buried gem Beatles fans around the world have been hoping for.”
“In the end, Now And Then — which, in a nice twist, is backed by Love Me Do on the single release — is not a Beatles classic that will trump I Want To Hold Your Hand, Let It Be or Hey Jude. The lyrics are underdeveloped — it was a demo for a reason — and the tune is nowhere near as ambitious as the music that the Fab Four were producing in their later years.
“But really, who cares when those harmonies swell to the heavens?”
Take a listen to The Beatles’ Now And Then below: