“It is the nature of desire not to be satisfied”— Aristotle
Nostalgia bands must distill an approximation of some forgotten & elusive attitude to evoke a disembodied spirit from some other time and some other place, if they are to be successful.
If this sounds abstract and illusory to you, it’s no wonder it’s practically impossible for a musician to accomplish. We ask bands to convey hope. We ask them to deliver ghosts of reflections. Half-imagined feelings. Half remembered epiphanies. I don’t know the science behind all this, but I guess we are asking musicians to connect our sub-conscious younger selves with our adult selves: To tap into lost emotions from teenage years. It is a challenging task.
Given how impossible this task is, it’s surprising that some bands (not all, but some) somehow, someways, and somewhat miraculously manage to deliver what we want. They go into the fog; they trap our memories in a bottle, and they come out to give is what we need. GRETA VAN FLEET is one such band.
So onto the review of their second studio album “The Battle at Garden’s Gate”…
And perhaps now you would expect me to use descriptors like: “weak & unimaginative…” and “monotonous and redundant…” before describing the curly-haired vocalist as “strained and unconvincing” and the guitarist as “depressingly antiquated” — and their whole act as “bombastic, pretentious, and exaggerated…” — but those adjectives were, in fact, written about another band, by someone else, in an altogether different timeline. (With thanks to Rolling Stone, 1969 and Globe & Mail, 1971.) Can you guess who they were talking about? Treat yourself to a sticky bun if you said Led Zeppelin.
So, before we even get into “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” we must understand the reasons behind peoples hatred of G.V.F. (a hatred that’s earned without even listening to them.)
Is it because they are daddy’s best band? (Indeed, scratch that, to be fair, they’re grand-pops best band!) Is it because they’re 70s Rush and 70s Zeppelin on a Toto stage, with weird hippie-type vocal ornamentation? Jon Anderson wearing an apron and yodeling to a cello? Is it because they bang-out glam, Boston-style chords that are repeated in the weirdest musical diversions and longest solos since Mid ‘70s Kansas?
Is it because some smarty-pants liberal dads, or cocky commentators, or trendy youngsters (who are more at home with trap, snap & crunk anyways) think they’re not cool? Is that it? Uncoolness? Is that why we condemn them? If so, we need to get our heads around the impossibility of their task: G.V.F. are attempting to retrieve coalesced folk memories. They are trying to incarnate something we lost in the mists of our youth hood… it’s nothing short of alchemy.
Perhaps there is a mindset that says: how dare these greenhorn Michigan whippersnappers desecrate the holy sounds of Seventies rock? Who do they think they are? They are profane. They’re disrespectful. It’s a charade! It’s outlandish copycatting!
But all rock is emulation, isn’t it? All rock is manipulating & renaming earlier ideas. Let’s face it: rock is plagiarism.
For example, a jingle writer named Jake Holmes wrote “Dazed and Confused. ” The “Lemon Song” was an idea by Howlin’ Wolf. “Whole Lotta Love “was really “You Need Love” and that song had its own history of litigious disputes. “Battle of Evermore” is simply an extension of Gallows Pole, based on a traditional folk song, reworked by Fred Gerlach. “When the Levee Breaks” is based upon an old Memphis Minnie song. And the less said about “Stairway to Heaven” the better! Isn’t that the beauty of rock ‘n’ roll? It’s Endless. It’s almost Sisyphean in its constant repetition. We know what we want from rock ‘n’ roll and we usually get it (provided the act isn’t so nouvelle vague that they have no obvious demographic.) Rock ‘n’ roll is repetition.
So, yes, “Broken Bells” is like Rush’s “Fly By Night” but with theatricals more akin to Jim MacLaine (played by David Essex) in the 1974 film Stardust. If you don’t know the movie, watch and learn. Watch and learn! But “Broken Bells” is enchanting! “Broken Bells” is lovely! I don’t think we use that word enough in rock. Not these days. If this song doesn’t stir something latent in your marrow, then you are not human. You are an automaton.
“Trip the Light Fantastic ” is smart. It reminds us of early Yes (reminiscent of the chuggy sounds from their Fragile period.) It has an ingenious riff and a courageous base-rhythm. It’s expressive and virtuosic.
“The Weight of Dreams” is glorious. Are we no longer allowed to like something that’s rich & superior? Has the man forbidden us from liking grandeur? For those who weren’t lucky enough to be teenagers in the late 60s and early 70s: this song is what it was like. It takes me back to the R.O.S.L.A building in our comprehensive school, hanging speakers out the windows to get crowds of min-skirted sixth formers to dance. It takes me back to loon-pants, love-beads and studded jean-jackets. The aromas, the textures, the loves…
And It takes more than courage & determination to create something this good: it takes prowess and knowledge. If you have to hate Greta Van Fleet, at least admit they know their subject. Now, sit back and wait for 4.55 and if what comes next is not transcendent, you are non-human.
“Built By Nations” (video shared below) is a veritable storm. Here, Josh’s lower vocal range is admirably unctuous, Jake’s guitar stings like viper saliva and Sam’s bass twists like a mamba, while Danny’s drums are nothing short of masterful. They can play. They can write. They can deliver emotion.
Anyway, what you get with G.V.F. and “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” is jams that are lengthier and noisier than you require, a bunch of pseudo-hippie/religious lyrics thrown around almost randomly, with weird vocal coloratura and lots of adventitious blues-based tropes. And all this comes jam-packed with affectation: in other words, they are the alchemical transmigration of Led Zeppelin, 1971.
If you are declaring you dislike this, you are also saying you dislike Led Zeppelin IV, which is fine and you are entitled to your opinion — but why did you come to hard rock ‘n’ heavy metal to get your kicks? Just wonderin’
Words: @neilmach 2021 ©
Video captures: © 2021 Republic Records