Some more details on the new Beatles tune from the Los Angeles Times:
McCartney has spent nearly 30 years with “Now and Then” lingering in the back of his mind — amazingly, the time separating its release and “Real Love” is longer than the distance between “Free as a Bird” and “The Long and Winding Road,” the final single the Beatles released in their lifespan — so it should come as no surprise that the finished product hardly sounds haphazard. It’s deliberate and sumptuous, savvily disguising the flaws in the original cassette tape and the age in McCartney’s voice through seamless studio trickery.
Most of this sleight of hand comes from McCartney, who is credited for production alongside Giles Martin — the son of original Beatles producer George Martin who has become the caretaker of their recorded legacy — and plays every instrument outside of Ringo’s drums and the trace elements of Lennon’s piano and Harrison’s rhythm guitar parts from the 1990s. The studio can be deceiving: The soaring slide guitar solo seems unmistakably like George but Paul designed it as a tribute to his late bandmate.
Back in 1994, McCartney bristled at Harrison playing slide guitar on “Free as a Bird” — “I thought, oh, it’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ again” — so there’s some measure of irony that Paul replicates every one of George’s slide signatures on the “Now and Then” solo. Yet it also feels loving, a way of communing with the departed.
That feeling applies to “Now and Then” as a whole. Where the “Anthology” reunion tracks carry a sense of bright nostalgia, there’s a wistful undercurrent flowing through the recording, an appreciation of what was given as much as a mourning for what was lost. Almost all of these emotions are conjured through the recording itself. Unlike “Free as a Bird,” which was given a bridge that was a bit on the nose, McCartney pares away Lennon’s words; a second verse with a “lose you or abuse you” rhyme has been excised, as has a wandering bridge.
One place where there’s an additional word is when McCartney sings “then we will know for sure I will love you” at the close of a verse, an addition that buttresses a melody that dissipated during this moment on the original Lennon demo. That is also the only moment where McCartney’s voice can be distinctly recognized. Throughout “Now and Then,” the voices of the other Beatles are more felt than heard, with McCartney teasing out the song’s inherent emotion with his arrangements, letting his bass, Ringo’s rhythms and George’s chugging strums, not their vocal harmonies, carry the weight.
Robbed of the opportunity to participate in a true final collaboration with his greatest muse, McCartney instead elevates this suggestion of a song into a realized record, one where its elegant, softly psychedelic flow lets Lennon’s longing linger in the subconscious. That regret is articulated clearly in a chorus of “Now and then, I miss you / Now and then, I want you to be there for me / Always to return to me,” words that sharpen John’s original intention with its second newly written clause. It’s a passage where Lennon’s yearning for McCartney intertwines with Paul’s mourning for John, a shared grieving for the partnership that defined both their lives. In that sense, “Now and Then” does provide something of a fitting conclusion to the Beatles’ recorded career — not so much a summation but as a coda that conveys a sense of what the band both achieved and lost.