New Greta Van Fleet album tries too hard to imitate something much older, much better

Greta Van Fleet performed at the Sylvee earlier this month. The band will be returning to Madison on June 4, 2019 at the Breese Stevens Field.

Image By: Emmett Sexton

I will begin this review with a disclaimer: I’d never listened to Greta Van Fleet before I heard this album. I was going into it with an open mind — music-savvy friends had shown me snippets of singles the band had released over the past couple years, and I wasn’t interested in knowing them any better. I came upon Anthem of the Peaceful Army hoping to have my mind changed.

It wasn’t.

Let me get something straight here: Greta Van Fleet’s sound and style is not original. In fact, it’ll be 50 years old next year with the anniversary of Led Zeppelin’s debut album, Led Zeppelin I from January 1969. This sound has been around for 50 years, as have many other musical trademarks that have shaped the sounds being produced by bands today.

I don’t mind that GVF’s twin frontmen sound, dress, move and perform near identically to Led Zeppelin’s original dynamic hard-rock duo, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. What I do mind is how they refuse to acknowledge it. Anthem of the Peaceful Army borrows from Led Zeppelin in many different ways, as the summary below will explain.

The first track “Age of Man” is a nice, subtly futuristic-sounding orchestral piece that complements Josh Kiszka’s voice well (if one can look past the fact that he seems to have borrowed it from someone else). The synth-like string instruments give the song a dreamy, ethereal vibe and provide a nice introduction to the album. I enjoyed the subtle guitar melody as it became prominent and built up to a climax alongside the vocals.

"Those who are seeking Led Zeppelin counterparts for every Greta Van Fleet track will get them in this review, song-by-song, for your discovering pleasure."

Those who are seeking Led Zeppelin counterparts for every Greta Van Fleet track will get them in this review, song-by-song, for your discovering pleasure. If you enjoyed this nice, dreamy track, you will find similar sounds in Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” from 1969’s Led Zeppelin II and “Ten Years Gone” from 1975’s Physical Graffiti.

“The Cold Wind” sounds eerily similar to one of my most-loved Led Zeppelin interpretations, “Travelling Riverside Blues.” Even the lyrics are similar: Both songs begin with “Now sweet mama—,” one of Robert Plant’s many signature vocal improvisations. The riff here is very catchy, and the bass lends itself to a steady groove. If I could’ve muted the singer’s voice and only heard the instrumental track, I would’ve enjoyed it 100 percent more. Fans of this track will find similar enjoyment with the previously mentioned “Travelling Riverside Blues” as well as “The Girl I Love Has Long Black Wavy Hair” from BBC Sessions, both of which were recorded live in 1969. You’ll notice similarities in the riffs as soon as you hear them.

“When The Curtain Falls” has another punchy little riff that unmistakably echoes “The Girl I Love” with hints of “The Ocean” from 1973’s Houses of the Holy, “Heartbreaker” from Led Zeppelin I and with vocals similar to Plant’s in “What is and What Should Never Be” from Led Zeppelin II. This is one of the hit singles released before the album, and the groovy verses and equally groovy chorus tell us why.

“Watching Over” has intro chords that echo “Stairway to Heaven” from 1971’s Led Zeppelin IV on an electric guitar, and the chorus has the same chord progression as “What is and What Should Never Be” but played at a slower tempo. The addition of a sitar in this song gives it an exotic, twangy feel, like Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” from Physical Graffiti.

“Love, Leaver” is “Black Dog” from Led Zeppelin IV rewritten in 4/4 timing. I found this to be their most bluesy-rock track with an engaging solo. Fans of “You’re the One” should definitely compare it to “Your Time is Gonna Come” from Led Zeppelin I. This is the first soft acoustic track with a nice harmonizing chorus. Likewise, fans of “A New Day” can check out “Ramble On” from Led Zeppelin II, “The Rain Song” from Houses of the Holy and can also compare it to Led Zeppelin’s entire mostly acoustic third album, Led Zeppelin III.

“Mountain of the Sun” has a catchy hook and continues into a rhythmic and upbeat chorus, much like “Good Times Bad Times” from Led Zeppelin I and “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” a Zeppelin single released in 1970. “Brave New World” is heavier, grander in sound and screamingly similar to “When The Levee Breaks” from Led Zeppelin IV.

Its following track, “Anthem,” once again echoes Led Zeppelin III in its entirety as a mellow acoustic track with melodic vocals that blend well. The final track is another version of “Lover, Leaver” entitled “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer)” but is once again too similar to its Zeppelin “parent tracks” I pointed out before. This version ends with a dreamy narrative sample accompanied by spacey guitar that echoes Jimmy Page’s famous guitar interlude from the legendary “Whole Lotta Love” off Led Zeppelin II.

"Every time I hear a Greta Van Fleet track on the radio without knowing it is one, I always find myself wondering — did someone kick Robert Plant in the balls and record some lost Zeppelin tracks?"

Every time I hear a Greta Van Fleet track on the radio without knowing it is one, I always find myself wondering — did someone kick Robert Plant in the balls and record some lost Zeppelin tracks? Why does his voice sound so nasally and shrill? Only after Shazam-ing the song will I find it’s GVF, and then I’ll usually shake my head in disappointment and switch off the radio.

These similarities have been vehemently denied by the band. I would forgive them if they just admitted where they got their style from because we all know it’s really hard to be original in this day and age where everything has been done before.

But instead of admitting to the obvious and numerous similarities, the band continues to claim their sound is entirely original and uninspired by its largely unacknowledged predecessor. Props to the band and their producer(s) for successfully duping an entire generation of listeners who are either too young or too disassociated with music from the ‘60s and ‘70s to know any better.

Greta Van Fleet is talented, but they’re wearing costumes (literally) and trying too hard.

For people first hearing blues-rock, you’re on the right track, you’ve just started at the wrong station. I appreciate their talent, but as a die-hard Led Zeppelin fan, I cannot appreciate whatever “originality” these people think they have. They egregiously cross the line in their similarities with Zeppelin far too often, and nobody seems to care.

"There is a difference between being inspired by something and imitating it directly." 

There is a difference between being inspired by something and imitating it directly, and they sound like a cheap American imitation of the British rock giants who won the west 50 years ago with their unique reimagining of Delta blues tracks and their amazing talent for acoustic and electric sounds accompanied by positively exquisite lyrical storytelling.

Those of you GVF fans looking to see the light can stream Led Zeppelin’s “An Introduction to Led Zeppelin” compilation playlist on Spotify or find their albums on Apple Music to understand where this “hit new band” took their cues from. I hope that future works by GVF will showcase the band’s talent in unique new ways that actually haven’t been done before, and I really hope the lead singer will throw out his Robert Plant impression.

If you have enough talent to impersonate Zeppelin, you definitely have the talent to make your own music.

Savannah McHugh is an almanac editor for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of her work, click here.

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