Greta Van Fleet: Anthem of the Peaceful Army
Greta Van Fleet took over the top slot on the Billboard Top Artist album chart this week. Let that sink in for a second. A blues-rock band that sounds more like Led Zeppelin than even Robert Plant’s latest album bested Lady Gaga, Post Malone, Drake, and Imagine Dragons (all in the Top 10). Their new album Anthem of the Peaceful Army has created a tidal wave of backlash, most notably a ruthless review in Pitchfork, while others are ready to celebrate the return of rock-n-roll to mainstream consciousness. In listening to Anthem of the Peaceful Army, it is obvious that both sides of the debate are right. And wrong.
Before I owned a Led Zeppelin album, I owned several Whitesnake albums and even a Kingdom Come cassette. The internet didn’t exist so while I heard the occasional crack about both bands lifting their sound from Zeppelin, it didn’t sway my impression that they were cool. To this day, Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night” gets played at full volume when it comes on in my car. Looking back, most of what I loved as a teenager could probably be traced back to Zeppelin, Aerosmith, David Bowie, or Kraftwerk. I didn’t care then and I certainly don’t care now. If we want to follow the DNA of influence down a dusty road, we all end up at the crossroads of Robert Johnson eventually.
Lyrically, both Greta Van Fleet and Led Zeppelin are not above reproach. For your consideration:
“Take of the fruit, but guard the seed”
“I saw a lion he was standing alone, with a tadpole in a jar”
“A silent child climbs a mound of char, Where he plants a seed that grows beyond the stars”
The first two belong to Led Zeppelin while the last head-scratcher is from Greta Van Fleet. Either way, nobody is confusing any of this for Bob Dylan’s poetry. Yes, the similarities are sometimes achingly obvious, for example:
“We come from the land of the ice and snow” – Led Zeppelin
“To wonderlands of ice and snow” – Greta Van Fleet
However, when it is all said and done, rock-n-roll relies on a combination of words, music, and attitude to convey an emotion and Led Zeppelin are one of the best ever at it. For a bunch of young musicians to mimic that in their own way only proves just how long a shadow Zeppelin continues to cast over music.
Musically, Anthem for the Peaceful Army comes across as more than a class project in re-creating the Zeppelin template. Opener, “Age of Man”, reminds me of Rush more than Zeppelin, to be honest. “When the Curtain Falls” does evoke the Zeppelin mystique but really, this is just crunchy, bluesy guitar riffing rock-n-roll. Every generation has its fair share of bands doing this from Whitesnake to Black Crowes. The costumes might change but the blueprint remains the same.
The second half of the album unfolds far better than the first with more acoustic guitar interwoven into the compositions. The band will never be mistaken for Zeppelin, mainly down to the drums. You can record the drums to sound like John Bonham but nobody can ever replicate his swing behind the beat. In listening to “The New Day”, you hear a good rock song that could be great in the hands of Bonham. When it comes to greatness, the genius lies in the most subtle touches which is asking a lot of a young band on their first full-length album.
From the Stranger Things font to the prog-rock aesthetic of the album design, a calculated attempt to place the band in a past era screams record label treachery. In retrospect, the same argument can be applied to Nirvana’s Nevermind as well. Marking the end of a lucrative era of pop and heavy metal for the industry, Nirvana ushered in the alternative rock explosion for those same record labels. We cannot pick and choose when we critique a band for the way they wear their influences. Until Nirvana grew into In Utero, they often times sounded like a garage rock version of The Pixies despite their impact on popular culture.
When the internet chatter dies down, Greta Van Fleet’s Anthem of the Peaceful Army will be remembered as a solid, somewhat predictable outing by a young rock-n-roll band. Rolling Stone famously panned the first Zeppelin album and Nevermind earned only three stars from them at the time so Greta Van Fleet would be wise to ignore all us critics and keep following the path they’ve chosen. If they inspire younger audiences to dig through their parent’s garage for a vinyl copy of Houses of the Holy and start learning guitar, rock-n-roll may one day soon rule popular culture once again. Note to those kids, if your parents have any Zebra albums, check those out, too. You’ll dig it.