Now And Then
I've been here before. Waiting for a new old Beatles record to arrive…
I can still recall the overwhelming wave of disappointment that I felt when I heard 'Free As A Bird' - the first posthumous Beatles record back in 1995. I remember where I was, the time of day (I'd got up early to hear the exclusive first play on Radio One), what I was having for breakfast. And within the first minute of hearing it, I felt crushed.
How could this be? What were they thinking? On that morning and every time I've listened to it since then, I'm back in the same room, asking myself the same question: 'Why the fuck does it sound like John Lennon is singing into an answer phone machine?'
Others will have a tougher skin - they won't feel the pain if 'Now & Then' turns out to be a dud. There will be arguments that anything recorded by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr post-1970 cannot, factually, be called The Beatles and that there's something macabre about duetting with a dead person. Get things into perspective Jay, it's just a pop record, that's all it is.
But I can't, I'm here again and it feels like that sickening sensation before opening yet another letter of rejection following another messed job interview or that moment before I look at some abysmal exam grades that I knew I was always due. I'm counting the clock down to the first play of the 'last' single from The Beatles. And my nerves are so on edge....
The relief, the sheer blessed relief. First, there is the joy that ‘Now And Then’ sounds like all four band members are present and in the room...suspend disbelief, this is The Beatles. Whatever technical marvels Peter Jackson (who directed the ‘Get Back’ documentary) achieved in separating Lennon’s vocals from the piano on the original demo…just go with it! It works. Trust me. And, this is not a scrappy half-finished doodle of a thing (like ‘Free As A Bird’), that required extra verses added, it’s a full song. And Lennon’s voice - plaintive, lonely and longing. ‘And if I make it through, it's all because of you’ – simple, direct, and vulnerable (is he singing about his former bandmates? Is he?). This is the voice I connected with so long ago and on ‘Now and Then’, it still has the power to move me.
But this is not just a John Lennon record, it is a Beatles record – and it’s worth noting that McCartney’s aged voice (to think that he’s twice as old as Lennon ever would be!), is present but low in the mix so that it’s not too incongruous. And, despite his grumblings about the muffled audio track when the remaining Beatles first tried to tackle the song in 1995, the late George Harrison did contribute the guitar parts and they’re lovely to hear. There are moments that are so recognisably Beatlesy – they’re subtle, but they cause a shudder when I hear them.
If there are any reservations, then it’s that the track ends so abruptly, like a bad radio edit. It’s clumsy. And those strings? Maybe it’s me but as they gradually build throughout the song I’m somehow reminded of a single by a bunch of Beatles wannabes from the 1990s that had a similar effect. I won't sully the air by naming them, I just hope that I’m alone in thinking that it sounds like them.
Other than a wish that Peter Jackson et al could go back to the posthumous 'Free As A Bird' and 'Real Love' and finally tidy up the Lennon vocals, I really don’t want there to be any more Beatles music. Let this really be the last Beatles record. Whatever demos, early takes, unfinished doodles may be in the vaults, please just let them be. This is a perfectly dignified place for the story to end.