“Now and Then” – The Beatles 2023
Written by mccormacke1 on December 2, 2023
Review By J.F. Tannen
It’s not very often you get to write a review for a new Beatles single. Heck, I wasn’t even born the last time that even happened. Personally, I consider it an honor to throw my hat in the ring and add my name to the lengthy list of music journalists talking about the Beatles, like the guy who said this about Sgt. Pepper’s when it first came out:
“What a shame that ‘A Day in the Life’ is only a coda to an otherwise undistinguished collection of work. We need the Beatles, not as cloistered composers, but as companions. And they need us. In substituting the studio conservatory for an audience, they have ceased being folk artists, and the change is what makes their new album a monologue.”
Needless to say, it’s hard to remove modern subjectivity when consuming something that clearly will stand the test of time. After all, how many albums can you still walk into a store and easily buy over 70 years after it’s been released? The Beatles have cemented their place in music history and anything new, whether a simple unreleased demo or a proper full LP would surely add to that legacy. So rather than talking about whether “Now and Then” is good, I think it’s more appropriate to discuss what exactly it means for the Beatles. Doing this, we first have to look at what it isn’t.
Despite being worked on by all four Beatles at some point in their lives, “Now and Then” is not and cannot be a true Beatles song since the only way for a true Beatles song to be made is to be worked on by all four of them together at once. This seems to be an important distinction to make, since it was made previously back in the 90s for Anthology, referred to being more by “The Threetles” than the band proper. Now with only two surviving members (The Twotles?) we are now even more removed from that creative process that made the group so famous. It’s more of an exquisite corpse assembled by the members of the Beatles over 40-something years. That isn’t to say that it is bad, far from it. All of the individual members of the group have had incredibly successful solo careers that can even rival the Beatles at their peaks. “Now and Then” isn’t a Beatles reunion because it can’t be.
So what is it, if not a new Beatles effort. Honestly, it’s kind of the opposite, if that makes any coherent sense. “Now and Then” is all that is left of the Beatles as a group. As far as we know, there are no more demos, no more secret sessions, no more scrapped recordings, nothing (except Carnival of Light but humor me here). This is all The Beatles have left to give us. And what it gives is less like a new chapter to their story but rather an epilogue. Poetically, the minimalistic lyrics deal with memory and nostalgia. It can almost be viewed as Lennon accidentally anticipating the audience’s reaction to the eventual song. We owe them and we miss them, simple as that. Musically, Lennon’s enhanced voice is at the forefront, with a modern McCartney providing backing vocals. It creates a sort of uncanny valley effect but not in a way that I particularly dislike. It connects two versions of two people that can never truly meet and that’s the strange beauty and sadness of it. Instrumentally, it feels like it belongs right in the middle of Abbey Road’s Long Medley, right between “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight.” The Orchestra never takes away from the core four Beatles and their performances, and like the best of their discography, elevates the song beyond the realm of traditional rock and pop. Harrison’s archival slide guitar solo was an incredibly welcome surprise to the track. I was worried that he would not be represented on this track, though thankfully, I was proven incorrect. It was produced by Giles Martin, son of longtime Beatles producer George Martin. Giles has already been able to carve out his own musical legacy outside of his father and along with the surviving Beatles, seems like the only possible choice for producing this track.
“Now and Then” is a bittersweet song to listen to. On the one hand, it is monumental to receive what we got but on the other, it can never be what we had. It’s the best the Beatles could have given us right now, and what a track it is having heard it. To borrow the words from another: What a shame that “Now and Then” is only a coda. If you haven’t heard it and are a fan of the Beatles, this is the best possible bookend we could have gotten and is a must listen. 10/10, I miss the Beatles…
Image from Amazon.com.