Greta Van Fleet is a four-piece hard rock band from Michigan and a direct ripoff of Led Zeppelin. That might sound a little harsh right out of the gate, but it’s a claim that really wouldn’t shock many listeners who are familiar with both bands. The band’s most recent album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, has taken an absolute beating by critics for its stunning and unabashed mirror-symmetry to Led Zeppelin’s own catalogue. If you think I’m overselling it, listen to a Zeppelin deep-cut followed by a Greta Van Fleet track, and ask yourself if you could really tell the difference.
What’s worse is that the band falls painfully short of the standard that Led Zeppelin set for their style. Anthem of the Peaceful Army lacks the visceral energy of its sole forefather while throwing nuance completely out the window in an absurd caricature of Led Zeppelin’s often amorous and/or fantasy-inspired lyrics.
While I wholeheartedly agree with the bashers of Van Fleet’s shoddy copy-job, that horse has already been beaten thoroughly to death. I want to introduce a new angle to this discussion, as someone who has walked in the band’s shoes. In a way, I’m a Greta Van Fleet sympathist. I understand where they’re coming from; I too was profoundly influenced by the rock and roll colossus that is Led Zeppelin. As an avid musician, it was only a matter of time before I found myself in a basement playing Out On The Tiles with three other dudes, including my identical twin brother, who also wanted to sound like their biological father was Zeppelin III. (Fun fact, Greta Van Fleet also contains a set of identical twins).
At the risk of sounding extremely narcissistic, our imitation Zeppelin band became really good. Just like Van Fleet, our frontman was a mini Robert Plant, and we landed our fair share of bar gigs that satisfied the ‘middle-aged blues dad who wants to have a few too many Miller Lites on a Wednesday night’ demographic. We were proficient musicians who thoroughly enjoyed the rush of replicating the sound of our idols.
But the fact of the matter is, this type of musicianship is the epitome of stagnation. There’s nothing wrong with drawing heavily from one’s influences– Zeppelin themselves were even known to borrow a song or two from other artists– but the music should still be a creative effort. By staying so laser-focused on a particular pre-existing style, Greta Van Fleet removes all creative effort from their work. They’ve reduced themselves to the musical equivalent of tracing your favorite painter’s magnum opus on notebook paper. It’s fun to watch yourself draw something so masterful, but it lacks the life of the original, and requires no real invention by the “creator.”
Consequently, blind imitation such as this gives no real pleasure to the artist. My exploits with Led Zeppelin 2.0 ended shortly after the group realized that even in our original songs, we were still playing in the shadows of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. No artistic growth can take place when all one is striving for is to create a perfect replica of another work. Frankly, it can become outright boring to live completely within another artist in this way, no matter how well the imitation is executed. But when the imitation starts to seriously pay the bills, Greta Van Fleet is born.
Critics such as myself are ultimately in the minority. Largely speaking, Greta Van Fleet’s rock revivalism has been taken in stride, with the group charting on the Billboard several times. Such a striking return of a long-abandoned music is undoubtedly exciting, especially for fans of classic who enjoy the band’s clear resemblance to Led Zeppelin. But as long as the members of Greta Van Fleet continue to lock themselves in the artistic cage of Zeppelin replication, I’d rather just listen to Houses of the Holy.