Unlinked Artist

Communication Breakdown

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TESTO - Unlinked Artist - Communication Breakdown

This new Greta Van Fleet album... is NOT GOOD.

The brand new full-length album from Michigan band, Greta Van Fleet. Given my feelings on the band's previous material and my negative takes on nearly every track that has been released prior to the drop of this album, along with some very notable and negative reviews this album has received since it was put out, you might have seen this video coming.

But I have a feeling that this is going to be a very different NOT GOOD, because Greta Van Fleet is a unique band in a unique situation: this is not like most videos in this series where I will just totally rip on an album because the production is garbage, the singing is some of the worst I've heard this year and the instrumentals or the perfomances are just "AAAAHHH!".

That is actually very much the opposite for Greta Van Fleet: when it comes to musicianship I'm not going to say this album is the moon and the stars or anything, but these guys are very capable, they play pretty freaking well. And the production is actually pretty tasteful by modern rock standards, it's nowhere near as squeaky-clean and soulless as what you might find on, like, an Imagine Dragons album, there is a nice human touch, it does have a cool, organic quality to it, even if sometimes it does come off slightly bland.

So yeah, the production, musicianship, the perfomances... they're not really all that bad. Sitting down and listening through to this entire album, while there are a few duds in the tracklist, it's actually pretty pleasant, not excruciating by any stretch of the imagination.

But the headache that Greta Van Fleet gives me is more of a contextual one. Now, if you didn't know up until this point Greta Van Fleet is pretty much a hard rock band, mixing groovy bass and drums with wild guitar riffs and leads and soaring, bluesy vocals. Very much a '70s throwback and a quality one at that in that there is a lot of attention to style and detail. But Greta Van Fleet in this album are not just merely some '70s hard rock pastiche: the ideas and the sounds and the influences behind the music on this album are so dead specific you can really whittle Greta Van Fleet's, pretty much their entire sound, down to one band, and that's Led Zeppelin.

I mean, of course there are some elements of songwriting and musicianship where they fall painfully short, but honest to God there were deep cuts on this thing that if you told me they were a long lost Led Zeppelin B-side, I might just believe you. The imitation literally goes that far. I mean, the imitation went too far on the band's previous release already and it seems like with the years they had to own their sound and their increase in production quality they have only spent this time, this effort, this money in emulating Led Zeppelin's sound further, only becoming even greater of a rip-off.

But my major issue with this record does not merely come down to the fact that one band that's new is influenced by another band that's old, because, as you know, there are dozens of reviews I pop out every year, many of them being positive, where there's a very clear influence being worn on the sleeve of that artist for another one that I'm pretty familiar with as well. Merely being influenced by another artist is not a sin, especially if we're talking about the case of Led Zeppelin, because few artists stole, robbed and cheated their way to the top like Led Zeppelin did, as there are numerous tracks in the band's catalogue where certain pieces, musical ideas or entire songs are just blatant rip-offs of other shit.

So, it's not merely the stealing, the borrowing or even the plagiarism of a particular sound or idea or aesthetic that really kind of gets in my craw over this record, because in the creative process of any kind of art you're always going to be influenced by something, even inadvertently, as the creative process doesn't happen in a vacuum.

But instead of making something that's essentially an amalgamation of all the ideas and experiences from each respective member in Greta Van Fleet, the band has decided to base their creative output on the vision of a single music act and again, that's Led Zeppelin. There are maybe a few parts on this album where a guitar lick or a vocal riff might sound a little bit like Geddy Lee or a little bit like, like an Aerosmith track, but for the most part this album just sounds like a bunch of Led Zeppelin cuts, to the point where Greta Van Fleet is a cover band but without the covers, as the quality of the songs on this record are okay, but weren't nearly good enough to make the cut of great Led Zeppelin albums like III and IV and Physical Graffiti. There's nothing on this album that goes toe-to-toe with a "Black Dog" or a "Stairway to Heaven" or even a "Communication Breakdown", in terms of perfomance, musicianship, wild energy.

So, the band's own mission to emulate this sound in a way has failed, as the end result here doesn't really entice me to listen to the album over again, but rather it just feels like I'm pre-gaming to go to listen to an actual Led Zeppelin album, because whenever I put this on that's pretty much what I'm in the mood to do, despite again the musicianship on this thing not being all that bad and I do find pretty impressive that the lead singer on here has literally mapped out Robert Plant's whole vocal range in, in his vocal cords, from his strained, raspy and passionate highs to his, kind of, saucy and sultry lower registers.

But even sounding exactly like another huge band and falling short on a quality level isn't even the biggest annoyance that I have with this record and it has nothing to do with "Oh, now the rock 'n' roll used to be about rebelling against your parents and now with this record it's about pleasing your parents", it's not really about that either. My biggest annoyance with this album is that conceptually it spits in the face of artistic evolution.

Because, again, while Led Zeppelin, some of the biggest thieves in rock music, they at least had the foresight and the smarts to cover their tracks and at least put some sort of twist on what it is they were ripping off. Without at least that baseline level of minimal effort to recontextualize what they were borrowing, you wouldn't have Led Zeppelin. Even though originality is not the be-all end-all of great music and a record that is purely original and separate from any and all contexts and musical cultures and movements that we are currently familiar with would most likely turn off most listeners, the struggle to be original and the struggle to stand out is what pushes music as an art form forward, because there are plenty of genres and musical movements over the years that we can name that have essentially become cultural dead ends, red herrings or just completely died out as dead as something can be in the Internet age, because it failed to evolve, it failed to progress forward, it failed to challenge the listener and it failed to engage a new generation of listeners on their terms with something different.
So, even though presenting new ideas or sounding unlike anything else out there does not guarantee you an audience or a great album, without all of us or at least most of us attempting to, to attain that, there's literally no reason to listen to any new music ever again, because we would literally be in a situation where it's just all been done before, because the unoriginality of this band in this record is deafening and it's outright shocking.

And again, this has nothing to do with borrowing directly from Led Zeppelin, I mean, I enjoy for the most part that Rivals Sons record, Pressure & Time, and there are tons of tracks on that album that sound pretty much like Led Zeppelin tracks, however, I would never mistake those songs for a Led Zeppelin song or a Led Zeppelin recording. Just as I would never mistake an Aerial Pink song for an R. Stevie Moore song. Just as I would never mistake a Kurt Vile song for a Neil Young song. And just as I would never mistake an Earl song for an MF DOOM song.

Again, it's not similarity and influence that's necessarly a bad thing here, even to the degree that Greta Van Fleet takes it, because, hey, you know, cover bands can be pretty entertaining, but I would never buy a cover band's album or ponder the artistic intent of what they're doing beyond that they're just here to lightly entertain people while they're getting a hit of nostalgia and just, kind of, drinking the night away.

The problem with this album is that it openly poo-poos the guiding artistical principles of recontextualization, change, reappropriation as this band has chosen to work from one of the greatest rubrics in rock history and have literally put no twist on it whatsoever, outside of slightly more subpar musicianship and songwriting. Maybe some of you feel like I'm overreacting here, but I truly do find this band's unashamed coattail riding on another artist's creative journey, uh, to be pretty aggravating, especially since the final result pales in comparison to the original and isn't really that interesting.

This Greta Van Fleet album... is NOT GOOD.

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