Zeppelin Jr. is fine for now, but Greta Van Fleet needs to evolve past their influences

The young gang from Michigan debuted a rocking first album, but need to ensure their sound does not remain the same


Greta Van Fleet's first studio album, "Anthem of the Peaceful Army," is a capable, if nostalgia-heavy, debut.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Rock has never died. It’s evolved, transported, played out and played back in again. It’s been the most daring news in the world. It’s been stomped out and mopped across. It’s blurred the line between fantasy and reality and made its own levels of thought. It sold its soul with Johnson, endured windmills with Townshend and survived its greatest challenge, hair bands (yuck!). 

More than anything, it’s influenced. Art is borrowed, manipulated, recreated, innovated, estimated, renovated, procreated — but eventually made into something new. Why would people think music would be any different? Every musician was consummated out of some musician or band before them. Guthrie led to Dylan, Dylan to the Dead, Doors and Airplane created The Clash, produced Nirvana, shaped Green Day and now there’s Arctic Monkeys and Portugal. The Man making new music every year. Alright, well the Monkeys’ tiresome five-year hiatus was a pain in the backside, but they owned 2018, and even the Stones broke up for five years, so give them the benefit of the doubt. 

Greta Van Fleet found that influence straight from 1968 London. The four-piece band of three brothers and their buddy released their debut album “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” Friday and shamelessly earned themselves the nickname “Zeppelin Jr.” Lead man Josh Kiszka does a phenomenal Robert Plant impression on every song until you realize it’s not an impression. There’s an element of preposterousness in this — the resemblance is uncanny. 

But there’s more of a charming nostalgia to the retro-fashionistas who probably made this band to make their dads happy. It’s a nostalgia for an elder generation who reminiscences for the lost, larger-than-life stardom that classic rock bands had back in the day. But more importantly, it’s a nostalgia for us kids who feel like we missed out on the heyday of rock ‘n roll. And the boys of Greta Van Fleet give off a vibe that they feel the same way. The 20-something Kiszka brothers and 18-year-old drummer Danny Wagner grew up listening to all the greats that their parents listened to and — if you believe them — didn’t discover Zepp until they were in high school. 

Rock music is at a weird stage in its evolution where it tips more to this nostalgia than rebellion. To be fair, who are the kids listening to rock nowadays supposed to rebel against? Their parents? The original rebels who dropped an atom bomb on society in the first place. Modern day teachers? People who actually encourage kids to break out of their shell, unlike ancient teachers who preached conformity. And for God’s sake, rebelling against the government has gotten so annoyingly played out — you definitely don’t have to listen to rock music to want to rebel against today’s governments. Embrace the nostalgia. Long for the time when music was superior to the shizzy pop rock we have now. Kids today will look at Greta Van Fleet’s music and call it old. Why does rocking the f—k out to live instruments instead of pushing buttons have to be old? Let it be new again. 

The criticism for being too much like Zepp is farfetched. Every modern rock band sounds like some ‘70s act when they start out. Greta just has enough talent that their first full length LP nails rock ‘n roll like no one has heard since the wannabe Zepp resurgence at the end of the century that produced The White Stripes and The Strokes. Well, I have news for you — “Is This It” is a poppier “Houses of the Holy” and that self-titled White Stripes album that apparently resurrected rock is a less-angsty Zeppelin continuation. And both those careers turned out pretty well, but I digress. 

The more this Zeppelin cover band criticism gets played out, the more it seems like these people wouldn’t know rock music if it broke through their door in a Hendrix costume, kidnapped them, brought them to Bethel Woods and taught them chords while sipping on dosed-out Kool-Aid through a tie-die bendy straw. The only reason people are thinking this is because of how awesome Josh Kiszka’s voice is, a voice no one has heard since Robert Plant — sorry Jack White, he’s got you beat. You’re really going to listen to “When the Curtain Falls” and not hear Clapton’s Cream-era riffs? Or the solemn southern-rock keys and rhythm guitar on “You’re the One” and “Anthem?” “Brave New World” sounds more like something out of a Neil Young playbook than a Zeppelin one. 

Enough about who they sound like. You know who they sound like? Greta Van Fleet. The biggest checklist items for an emerging rock band are their artistic prowess and live capability. Their live performances are light years ahead of most bands their age. They have the ability to take a four-minute song and stretch it 20 minutes through spacey jams and very powerful solos better than jam bands do. Nonetheless, it helps when you have a singer who can belch out a Plant-like “woooooooooooaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh baaaaaabbbbbbbyyyyyyyy baaaaaabbbyy yeaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh” without missing a beat. 

Their artistic prowess is not stellar, and this would be concerning if they were a bunch of 27-year-olds getting their start. They have a lot of learning to do. “Anthem” asks “where is the music? / A tune to free the soul / a simple lyric, to unite us all, you know.” It’s a pretty concrete reference to the American political climate and criticizes society for making everything political, even music. They never answer this question, however, and a little more writing could move past the nostalgia. “Age of Man” depicts a godless creation of man which would have a very sexy overtone to it if it didn’t feel like they were studying “The Battle of Evermore” lyrics while writing it. Most of the songs don’t have many lyrics, which respectively leaves room for live improvisation but feels like they were half-heartedly written.

For a first album, the nostalgia is wonderfully fitting. It fulfills their story and gives them content. But for a band that seems to want to make a difference and re-revolutionize music, they need to progress past the nostalgia. If they truly want to have a powerful stimulus, they need to release another album by the end of summer 2019 and prove they are more than just their extensive influences. Kiszka’s voice can encompass a wide variety of rock sub-genres. If they mature their writing and answer the questions they have left unanswered, they’ll shut up critics. They have a long half-year of touring coming up that ends in early June with no California or Tennessee dates. This just about confirms that they will makes appearances at both Coachella and Bonnaroo, as well as countless other festivals over the summer. And don’t be surprised to see them high up on those lineups. 

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