Cosmic Slop #126: The Next New Led Zeppelin

By Shaun Ponsonby
Thu 31 May, 2018

As Greta Van Fleet continue to be touted as the New Led Zeppelin, Shaun Ponsonby pokes holes in the theory that the youngsters will save rock & roll. 

There seems to be desperation among the ranks of rock & roll to prove that the genre is still a force to be reckoned with.

Rock isn’t totally dead, of course – no genre ever is. But it is exhausted as the predominant cultural force. There isn’t really anything new that we can get out of it. With the odd exception, it has been recycling its past since at least Britpop.

Because I’m a horribly petty and pedantic arsehole who just won’t let things go, this has come to a head for me over the last few months with the rise of a band from Michigan called Greta Van Fleet.

They are being widely hailed as the new Led Zeppelin by morons who use dumb phrases like “real music” – for argument’s sake, let’s call them Clarksons.

Of course, what is really going on is that the band are being hyped in this way and the Clarksons are just blindly following it without thinking about it. Looking at the comments on their YouTube videos, hundreds of Clarksons react to them by saying things like “FINALLY! People are playing instruments again!” – as if that ever stopped happening. Ever. In music history.

But what, I ask you without intending to do you the courtesy of hearing your answer, does all of this mean?

Greta Van Fleet are a retro band. As of yet, they haven’t created anything new or exciting. They have some good tunes, but they are rehashing the past. There’s an Elders React video on YouTube where older people, who were around in Led Zeppelin’s day, are asked to decipher whether the song they are being played is Led Zep or Greta – and many can’t tell them apart.

Apparently, this is supposed to be a good thing. Not being able to tell a new band apart from a better band from four decades ago is obviously peak music. For that reason, they are unlikely to ever be anyone’s favourite band. They’re always just going to be those kidz wot sound like Led Zeppelin.

It is interesting comparing retro soul groups to retro rock bands. The former seem to do it with a certain amount of knowingness, they play on the clichés a little for fun. Their audience are in on it and take it all with a pinch of salt.

The retro rock bands seem to be presented far more earnestly and are taken far more seriously, like they are on some kind of mission to force a passé style back into the charts. This is REAL MUSIC and shit, yeah? It kinda makes me cringe.

This is one of the reasons why The Darkness were successful beyond the Clarksons, and were probably a superior band. By channelling the fun side of rock music, they found an audience that could comprehend their pastiche with the fact that they could hammer out a pretty great pop-rock tune.

By taking it so over the top, they side stepped the problem of looking too old hat. It may have had a limited commercial shelf life, but it was just funny enough, and it lured people in. They had that knowingness. They took what they did seriously, but not themselves.

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There are some bands who acknowledge it in subtler ways. The Gaslight Anthem always kept a retro aesthetic that worked overall – reminding you of the past without explicitly sounding like it. Vintage Trouble may sound like Otis Redding fronting Led Zep, but they put the emphasis of their presentation on the old soul showmanship.

But it isn’t true of most, because everyone wants to be seen as some kind of elusive “real deal” (spoiler: it doesn’t exist).

Greta’s frontman, Josh Kiszka, has one thing going for him in that he does have a bit of a non-threatening, teen pin up look about him. But other than that, I am wondering what sets Greta Van Fleet apart from the “new Led Zeppelins” of the last 15-20 years. Wolfmother, anyone? The Answer? Rival Sons? Roadstar? The Mooney Suzuki? The Strypes?

There are a couple of things they all have in common.

Firstly, they were hyped as such for about six months but left no significant mark whatsoever – footnotes in the last chapter of the Rock & Roll Bible. Secondly, their audiences were generally older. I’ve seen a couple of them, and there were as many bald heads in the crowd as there was when I saw Nazareth.

They can’t be “saving rock & roll” if they’re only reaching the Clarksons, especially if we’re going to attempt to continue with the idea of rock & roll as a youth movement.

Looking at some of Greta Van Fleet’s song titles only hammers this point home. You have to wonder how relevant a title like Flower Power is to the youth of today. For them, its historical and doesn’t really say anything about their lives. If they want to reach da kidz they’re just as likely to do it with a song called The Battle of Bosworth Field.

This is to by no means suggest that any of these were bad bands or made bad music. They’re not and they don’t. And it isn’t to say that Greta Van Fleet won’t go into new directions. They’re innocent in all of this and are simply making the music they want to make and are having a blast doing it. Good luck to them.

My gripe isn’t with them, they weren’t even at legal drinking age when most of these songs were recorded. They’re only just starting out. But, as a mere reality check, believing that they are saviours of rock & roll is delusional. You don’t start a rock revival by whoring its past.

If the years of litigation against Led Zep are to be believed – the one thing that Greta Van Fleet really have in common with them is that they’re as original as a sausage.

You may like a sausage. You may tell your friends to eat the sausage. They might find the sausage perfectly pleasant. But they’ve probably had a better sausage just like it.