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Baxter Reviews: Greta Van Fleet

Posted 12/14/2018 by Baxter Stein

graphic by AJ Domagala

Greta Van Fleet: Inspired Tribute or Blatant Rip-off?

There’s a band that’s been making waves in today’s modern rock scene and has sparked one of the most heated debates of the modern era – Greta Van Fleet (GVF). The band is a four-piece classic-rock revival group that has been topping charts since their EP From the Fires came out in 2017. Rock fans are divided over Greta Van Fleet sound, as many claim they are a clone of Led Zeppelin. Others disagree, making the argument that GVF is bringing back a classic rock sound to a musical landscape barren of “real rock and roll.”

The similarities are undeniable – vocalist Josh Kiszka sounds nearly identical to Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. From the slow exaggerated slurring of his words to his thunderous crescendos, Kiszka’s performances follow Plant’s style to a T. Plant himself chimed in about the striking similarity of the vocals in an interview with Loudwire, saying, “Beautiful little singer, I hate him! He borrowed [his voice] from somebody I know very well, but what are you going to do?” The rest of the band wears the influence of Zeppelin as well, with memorable riffs and a guitar tone that’s vintage and punchy. The drums are traditional and functional, and do little to distinguish GVF from their predecessor. GVF doesn’t do itself any favors with the naming of an early single, “Highway Tune.” Yes, that’s what it’s called. Yes, Led Zeppelin does have a song titled “Highway Song.” If the band’s goal was to be subtle in their homage to the classics, they did an absolutely terrible job.

All of those criticisms are completely valid. Although GVF’s discography does sound like a lost trove of unreleased Zeppelin hits, I don’t think that Greta Van Fleet is worse by any metric except originality. Not only that, I firmly believe that the group sounds better than Zeppelin. It might seem ridiculous, but for all of the band’s unoriginality GVF has higher quality music. And of course it does – recording equipment, music education, and understanding of fundamentals have all increased in quality in the decades since the reign of rock in popular music. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the mixing of the GVF tracks puts Zeppelin to shame. All elements of the music are blended more seamlessly than before, and when compared side by side the new tunes leave the classics feeling a little hollow. GVF simply took an existing formula and improved on it. The new songs are far less repetitive than the originals, and shorter to boot. “Black Dog,” by Led Zeppelin is a great song, but in its near 5-minute run time there’s a single motif that dominates the composition. That motif is great and classic, but it makes the song drag a little at the end. Greta Van Fleet’s music features similarly catchy motifs, but doesn’t waste any runtime with excessive repetition. Bridges, solos, and alternate melodies support the central tune of the music, in a way not seen in the classic work of Led Zeppelin. And yeah, their lack of shame in imitating their largest influence might irk some die-hard Zeppelin fans, but Led Zeppelin were not saints in that respect either. Of all the bands GVF could have copied from, Zeppelin is probably the most guilty of copying the ideas of others. It may seem hard to compare the two, as Led Zeppelin was a group of consummate performers, but the members of GVF range in age from 19 to 25. This group of extremely young individuals will find their own sound in time, and the musical prowess they display makes me confident that they are here to stay.  

Even though GVF may have improved on the Led Zeppelin formula, I don’t think that means Zeppelin is obsolete; far from it. Led Zeppelin is classic, and that’s one thing that imitators can’t replicate. There will always be value in listening to vintage music, whether it’s the nostalgic or sentimental value attached to the age of the song or the value of learning from Led Zeppelin’s successes. That’s all GVF has done, really. They learned from listening to the classics, and have turned it into their own success story. I would argue that the presence of Greta Van Fleet in today’s music scene is not a heinous attack on the sanctity of rock music, but is rather a tasteful homage that’s keeping Led Zeppelin and their contemporaries more relevant than ever.