Inside ‘Now And Then’: With a little help from AI, The Beatles live again

Inside ‘Now And Then’: With a little help from AI, The Beatles live again

“I know it’s true,” offers the crisp, clear voice of the returning John Lennon on ‘Now And Then’, “it’s all because of you”. It’s a haunting and apt opening for a song the world wasn’t expecting, the last ever recording from The Beatles. Social media was divided when the surviving Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr first revealed the last song was coming, assisted by artificial intelligence. Have the robots ruined the Fab Four? NME went down to their Apple Corps London HQ to find out.

READ MORE: The Beatles: every song ranked in order of greatness

Through the corridors plastered with a museum’s worth of Beatles memorabilia and gold discs, we’re taken to an office to be introduced to the project with a touching new mini documentary. “When we lost John, we knew it was really over,” begins McCartney, looking back on a time when a reunion in flesh and blood was possible, before cutting to 1994 when “an interesting opportunity arose”. It was then that Yoko Ono handed over a cassette of Lennon’s demos, before Macca, Ringo Starr and George Harrison hit the studio to rescue what they could from them and finish them off.

Two of them, ‘Real Love’ and ‘Free As A Bird’ would be released as part of The Beatles Anthology series. On the third, they say, the quality of the recording of John’s voice and piano was not good enough to be salvaged. “John was hidden,” as Starr puts it, which only “brought to the fore to the three of us that he was gone.”

‘Now And Then’ was shelved, potentially forever, that is until Lord Of Rings director Peter Jackson came to make the marathon Get Back docu-series about the making of ‘Let It Be’. Using “machine learning” technology, as Jackson puts it, pure wizardry saw the team able to isolate instruments and vocals and hone in on individual conversations to make for a clear and intimate portrait of the best band of all time at work. If good enough for the telly, then would it be so bad to rescue Lennon’s voice and piano for one last tune? Sean Ono Lennon certainly doesn’t think so: “My dad would have loved that, because he was never shy to play with modern technology.”

And so it was done, with Macca and Starr using elements of their 1994 attempt, recording new parts, adding some new and old flourishes from the late George Harrison and a Giles Martin [son of producer and “fifth Beatle” George Martin] string arrangement “like his dad would have done in the old days”. Throw in some backing vocals from the original recordings of ‘Here, There And Everywhere’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Because’ and you’ve got what they’re calling a “genuine Beatles recording”. It’s a tender ode to togetherness and starting over and a song that seems far more complete and feels much more like The Beatles than ‘Real Love’ or ‘Free As A Bird’. Keep that, mark it fab.

The echoes of the past being brought to the present become manifest in Peter Jackson’s first ever music video, as Lennon and Harrison are superimposed alongside the surviving members for those long-missed japes. It’s a very literal translation of the title, and ‘Now And Then’ would melt the heart of the staunchest detractors.

The Beatles during a recording session for the “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, Abbey Road Studios, 1967. Credit: Jeremy Neech/Apple Corps Limited

While at Apple, they also play NME some choice cuts from the upcoming expanded reissues of the best of collections, the ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ albums – remastered using the same de-mixing approach as heard of the recent ‘Revolver’ reissue. We hear ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ more rough, ready and rocking than ever before, we hear the bass really sing on ‘Nowhere Man’ and ‘Hey Bulldog’ really howls. It sounds like The Beatles are in the room. It feels like The Beatles live again.

‘Now And Then’ is being released as a double A-side along ‘Love Me Do’; the band’s first ever single. There you have it: the beginning and the end. A ‘Hello/Goodbye’. It’s not cynical or synthetic, but a heartening spiritual reunion to close the book on the band that changed pop forever.

The post Inside ‘Now And Then’: With a little help from AI, The Beatles live again appeared first on NME.

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