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On Pitchfork’s 1.6 out 10 Review of Greta Van Fleet

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Greta Van Fleet’s debut album, which finally came out on October 19th after a series of EPs skyrocketed the young band into the public consciousness, shifted 87,000 units in its first week of release. That’s a monstrous number, and for a bit of context that’s more than Disturbed’s new album sold.

The band has courted plenty of controversy, of course, because they sound just like Led Zeppelin. Not a little: exactly like. We’ve covered some of their singles here at MS, and my opinion can be summed up thusly: 1) They’re fine at what they do, but no band that peddles in such singular nostalgia is ever going to excite me a whole lot, 2) This success cannot be sustained, and people are going to move on once the hype dies down.

Pitchfork, as the publication is wont to do, did not go easy on Greta Van Fleet, granting Anthem of the Peaceful Army a 1.6 out 10 rating. That’s brutal even by Pitchfork’s standards. And while I agree with the author’s assertion that the band isn’t worthy of all the hype they’re getting, I don’t agree with his logic.

Here’s the review’s scathing intro segment:

“Greta Van Fleet sound like they did weed exactly once, called the cops, and tried to record a Led Zeppelin album before they arrested themselves. The poor kids from Frankenmuth, Michigan don’t even realize they’re more of an algorithmic fever dream than an actual rock band. While they’re selling out shows all over the world, somewhere in a boardroom, a half-dozen people are figuring out just how, exactly, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are supposed to fit into the SUV with the rest of the Greta Van Fleet boys on ‘Carpool Karaoke.'”

“Just look at this photo: Brothers Jake and Sam Kiszka, on guitar and bass, are both wearing hippie costumes they 3D-printed off the internet. The singer, the wretched and caterwauling third brother, Josh, is in dangly feather earrings and vinyl pants, like he was dressed by a problematic Santa Fe palm-reader with a gift certificate to Chico’s. It’s a costume—Greta Van Fleet is all costume. And if things that look like another thing is your thing, get ready to throw your lighters up for a band whose guiding principle seems to be reading the worst Grand Funk Railroad songs as if they were a religious text.

“Though their debut album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, sounds like a bona fide classic rock record—with its fuzzy bass, electric sitar solos, and lyrics featuring the kind of self-actualized transcendence brought on by a few too many multivitamins—it is not actually classic rock. They are a new kind of vampiric band who’s there to catch the runoff of original classic rock using streaming services’ data-driven business model. Greta Van Fleet exist to be swallowed into the algorithm’s churn and rack up plays, of which they already have hundreds of millions. They make music that sounds exactly like Led Zeppelin and demand very little other than forgetting how good Led Zeppelin often were.”

The article’s author, Jeremy D. Larson, makes a mistake that I consistently see writers from outside the hard rock world make: the assumption that, because a band has a mainstream and/or unoriginal sound, that sound was borne of a calculated desire to be mainstream and/or unoriginal. That if only the musicians had tried harder to think outside the box, they could’ve done better. That’s all wrong. While history is certainly littered with examples of bands that went for the cash grab for the sole sake of doing so, I don’t think that’s what’s happening most of the time and I don’t think it’s what happening with Greta Van Fleet. They’re making the music they do because it’s exactly the kind of art they want to be creating. They love Led Zeppelin so genuinely and thoroughly that they hardly know how to do anything else, nor do they want to. They live it, they breathe it, they work it, they play it. It is not a calculation. As for the half-dozen people in a “boardroom” at Republic Records and William Morris, well, yeah, signing this band was surely a very calculated move, as all major label signings are. But that’s hardly Greta Van Fleet’s fault, is it?

Again, that doesn’t mean Larson’s premise that Greta Van Fleet are way overhyped is wrong — I mostly agree, although I don’t feel as strongly about it as he does (I’m content to just let the band be an adequate retro-revivalist act and leave it at that) — I just think his method of getting there is faulty and comes from a certain place of elitism with regards to hard rock that has always rubbed me the wrong way (and yes, I’m aware of the irony of that statement coming from one of the founders of a site called MetalSucks).

I’m also not sure about Larson’s assertion that The Darkness, a fellow retro act to whom Greta Van Fleet are often compared, were more credible in their day:

“It’s possible to be an exceptional classic rock vampire act but it requires something more than the major label money and vaguely Native American accoutrements. It’s why Greta Van Fleet can’t compete with, say, the Darkness circa 2003’s ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love.’ The Darkness—who aped big rock warhorses like Queen and Aerosmith and Van Halen—were so outrageous that they had to be credulous. They had a song that went, “Get your hands off of my woman, mother fucker” and did a power metal cover of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” Who would do such garish things? They dared you, tongue in cheek, to take this impossibly foolish thing very seriously.”

I remember when that song came out, and I remember the critical reaction: the music press fucking hated The Darkness. Couldn’t believe the band was a thing that people liked. Fittingly, the hype around The Darkness died even faster than it arrived, which harks back to my point in this piece’s intro.

So what do you think of Greta Van Fleet? Future superstars or a flash in the pan? Sound off below.

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