If you even remotely keep tabs on what’s doing in the current music scene, by now you’ve probably heard of the band Greta Van Fleet, who are either the saviors of rock and roll or its sure sign of ruination. Little in the middle seems possible. With the release of their first full-length album this week, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army, the hyperbole has only gone up from there.
Just in case you’re not familiar, a quick review. Greta Van Fleet are four very young and now very hyped boys from a small Midwest town, Frankenmuth, Michigan – twin brothers Josh and Jake Kiszka, 22, their younger brother Sam and their hometown friend Danny Wagner, both 19 (and they formed back in 2012, so you can do the math on their practically pre-pubescent ages when they were first getting started). For the past several years, supported only by a couple of EP’s, they’ve been selling out shows in decent sized theaters and halls all over the world. And, most significantly, they do sound a bit like another band you may have heard of: Led Zeppelin.
And there, in short, is the rub: Are they worthy revivers of a long-lost classic rock sound, or mere pathetic imitators in period costumes? Both the praise and the backlash have probably been excessive.
If you haven’t sampled them yet, here are the stages your listening will follow – if they’re roughly like mine were after I was first turned on to them by my friend Ike about a year ago: 1) This is literally Zeppelin; it must be some newly discovered or unreleased tracks from “Physical Graffiti” or something; 2) Well, they’re really just a cover band; If I want Led Zep I’ll dust off my old vinyl and listen to the real thing, thank you very much; 3) Hmm, these songs and these players are actually pretty damn good, and remind me, what’s so horrible about emulating Led Zeppelin?; and 4) Greta Van Fleet kicks serious ass, more please! (note: try not to give in to initial disdain and stop after stages 1 or 2, though you’ll be tempted; remember, it’s a 4-step process!)
One of the keys to me totally coming around on Greta Van Fleet (they’re named, by the way, after an 87-year-old resident of their hometown, a great-grandmother and former saxophonist in a polka band, Gretna Van Fleet) was their own stance on the central topic of debate on their worthiness as a band. Yes, they’re avowed admirers, even worshipers, of Zeppelin, studied them extensively for years, set out to make music like them, and most importantly, are completely unapologetic about it! So there. As one might expect, rock critics covering the emergence of a band with the audacity to in any way approximate the greatest blues/rock band ever, and one of the undisputed bedrock bands of the entire classic rock era, have gotten themselves into quite a lather with various degrees of acceptance of this premise. Rolling Stone has run feature after feature on them – I count at least six Greta Van Fleet pieces since January – and has hailed them as “Pure Seventies golden-god swagger” and “True believers..making rock relevant again.” Writing for Uproxx, Steven Hyden (easily the best rock writer around today) raised some insightful issues: “Almost nobody argues that Greta Van Fleet isn’t derivative. The people who love this band appreciate how imitative Greta Van Fleet is of classic rock and roll. The question is whether imitation is inherently bad, or if it’s possible to actually be good at being derivative.” While over at the hopelessly hipster Pitchfork, the debut album was contemptuously dismissed as “stiff, hackneyed, overly precious retro-fetishism” fostering the “self-satisfied buzz of recognizing something you already know” and given a below failing rating of 1.6 (all you need to know about the unintentional but unerring self-parody from Pitchfork is that in the same issue they graded a new release by Yoko Ono, who arguably doesn’t even make music, with a 6.3). In his review, the eminently more balanced Hyden also went on to add that they’re “The kind of band that music critics have always loathed, up to and including the original Zeppelin. The fact is that Greta Van Fleet is quite good at making ancient-sounding music that remains extremely popular at a time when nobody else is seemingly interested or capable of filling that void. And, if I may borrow a poptimist argument: Do you really want to slag these guys for not being authentic enough? Being accused of ripping off other artists may be the most genuinely Zeppelinesque thing about them.”
That all makes a hell of a lot of sense to me. Still, I sought to find the opinion of at least one more notable in this equation, Sir Robert Plant, who provided his endorsement from atop rock’s (misty) mountain top. Describing frontman Josh, Plant called him “A beautiful little singer. He borrowed his voice from somebody I know very well” and added, “They are Led Zeppelin I.” Done and done.
So, for crying out loud, give them a listen: Here’s one track from the new album, ‘When The Curtain Falls.’ The video scenery, their outfits and the song lyrics are enthusiastically grandiose and anachronistic. The chunky guitar riffs and octave-shattering vocal wails are audacious and unqualified Zeppelin evocations. And quite frankly, if you don’t dig the guitar & vocal combo-explosion beginning at 2:55, and pulled straight out of the ‘70’s, well I’m afraid you can just fuck right off. One videographer I found, who interestingly had juxtaposed parts of Greta Van Fleet songs with those of Led Zeppelin, as well as doing so for Zeppelin and the many from whom they’d liberally “borrowed,” observed the unrelenting waves of extremist opinion swarming the band and blithely suggested, “For now, just enjoy the music. There are worse things you could sound like than Led Zeppelin.” (but don’t forget, you will have to get through the 4 stages).
One final attitudinal note from the band, taken from a recent interview in Revolver.
Revolver: Almost everything written about your band mentions Led Zeppelin. Do you like those comparisons?
Jake Kiszka: Absolutely. We continue to be honored by the affiliation. Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest rock & roll bands of all time. It’s better than being referenced to something like Wham!
Effing A, boys.