I Changed My Mind About Greta Van Fleet (Sort Of)
Look, at this point you probably either love Greta Van Fleet or you hate them. The middle ground is reserved for those with a contextual oversight, or someone like me, who has all the context in the world but just doesn’t care enough either way. What prompted me to write this piece is neither an undying love or hatred for the band. A few months ago, I referenced GVF in a piece on objectivity in music. More specifically, I used them as an example of how revivalism can be leveraged to create objectively good music. Recently I’ve mulled over a lot of different stances swirling around on the internet about the young rock stars on the heels of their new album Anthem of the Peaceful Army. In doing so, I now take back some of what I had previously said. I want to set the record straight on where I stand on the band and musical revivalism in general.
In defense of the band’s obvious Zeppelinity, I laid out the following tenets:
1. Any band can over Led Zeppelin.
2. Some bands can cover Led Zeppelin and actually mimic their sound and playing style and to a tee.
3. Few bands can mimic the sound and style of Led Zeppelin to a tee, all while in the context of new original music that feels like an extension of the existing Zep catalog.
These are all still true, and GVF have mastered Led Zeppelin’s likeness so well that they have become as close to indistinguishable as a band can get. While that in itself does deserve praise, it’s not what revivalism should be. What GVF fail to do is add any trace of new flavor to their by-the-book recipe for classic rock nostalgia. Drawing so much influence from one band and only one band leads to musical dead ends. It’s obvious that the young stars of GVF have boundless natural talent. That much is clearly apparent in Josh Kiszka’s extensive vocal range and passionate delivery, Jake Kiszka’s soulfully rugged guitar licks, and so forth. However, they chose the lazy route with the music they’ve released thus far, playing songs that we’ve all essentially heard before and drawing the borders of their sonic nation so small that the homogeneity of their stylistic populace is embarrassingly apparent. It’s not new, and while it pains me to admit it, it’s just watered down Led Zeppelin.
It’s worth considering the fact that Josh's voice is a carbon copy of Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant’s, and has come to be the defining characteristic of GVF. It’s not exactly as if he can help the fact that his vocal chords naturally produce these sounds when strained to produce a range fit for hard rock operatics. To shame him for that is pointless, as he doesn’t get to choose how his body works. He, along with the rest of the bad, do get to choose how to employ that vocal power and build songs around it. But alas, over two albums there is little inventiveness to be heard; A dusty and wrinkled blues blueprint is followed to a tee, John Bonham’s meaty drum beats are present but without the technical flair, and generic lyrics about women and mish-mashed mythos fail to add any thematic depth. In other words, the song remains the same.
Revivalism is the kid asking a classmate for help on their homework instead of merely copying answers. There are plenty of examples of this that I could have used in my piece on objectivity but failed to do so. Bands like Shannon and The Clams and The Growlers offer slicker, modernized takes on the surf rock and pop of the 60s. The emo revival movement sees bands like Dads and Tiny Moving Parts taking cues from predecessors like American Football and the Promise Ring, employing similar lyrical themes and twinkly guitar picking but energizing them with punk vigor. There’s also the critically acclaimed Preoccupations, who seem to have thoroughly read Joy Division’s playbook, but whose unique brand of post-punk is infused with modern production that keeps the brooding dissonance while adding more complexity and experimentalism.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with being influenced by a genre or artist, but at what point does it cease to be “influence” and become a straight up knock-off? As I said before, GVF mimic the style and sound of Led Zeppelin so closely that it is rather impressive. Objectively good music however, should be predicated upon progression and how much an artist(s) pushes a style or genre forward. Greta Van Fleet, despite their ability to recapture the spirit of a bygone act, do not make any strides into the future of blues, hard rock, 70s rock, folk rock, or any of the stylistic influences that helped make a band like Led Zeppelin into the superstars that they were. I will continue to listen to GVF for the pure pleasure of hearing these musical elements. I love hearing them in Led Zeppelin’s music, and GVF's off-brand variant will do too. Each provides me with a different listening experience. Those experiences are subjective however, and I’m not naïve enough to put the two bands on the same pedestal.
Is it worth hating GVF over all this? Yes and no. It isn’t unreasonable to see their music as a huge slap in the face to some of rock’s most notable forefathers, especially with all of the commercial success they’ve garnered. At the end of the day though, should money really be the driving force behind such an argument against them? That seems sort of antithetical to what rock and roll is all about…The young members of Greta Van Fleet are attempting to keep rock alive, albeit at this point it’s more like they’re to prop up something that’s been dead for a while. They’re not fooling anyone anymore, even a fan like myself.