February 17, 2021

Intermezzo with Greta Van Fleet


I’ve been struggling to write the script for my next podcast. Maybe that’s because no one listened to the last one. Hint hint…

While I decide on some changes to the format for the podcast, I’ve been listening to some new music. Of course I have. One new EP that just dropped recently was Heat Above by Greta Can Fleet.

Ok, I know that Greta Van Fleet is controversial among Led Zeppelin fans. They have been accused of being nothing more than a pale copy of Zep. I think that unfair (and perhaps a bit stupid) and this latest EP shows that. Yes, it’s hard rock but not all hard rock is Zep. It’s more anthematic and less bluesy than almost anything Zeppelin did.

What came to mind when I heard the lead off song on the EP, also called “Heat Above”, was an old, song by Mountain called “Theme From an Imaginary Western” from 1970’s Climbing! (The exclamation point is in the album title not emphasis.)

Theme From an Imaginary Western” is a unique song on the album. Like the title suggests, the song evokes a sense of wide open space, as seen in our imaginary western. It uses sweeping guitars and and a plaintive, high vocal to provide a sense of longing and loneliness, presumably from a Man With No Name. It stands out on the album, which is mostly late 60s blues rock, as stylistically different from all the other songs. It was the only song on the album not written by the band and instead was composed by Jack Bruce of Cream with Pete Brown and lyricist also known for his work with Cream. That’s also amazing since it doesn’t sound like a Cream song either.

“Heat Above” has many of the same elements. It’s more grand and evocative of open space, in this case space above. Josh Kiszka’s sweeping vocals pair well with the band’s big sound to create that sense of space but also urgency.

The second song, “Age of Machine” features a more driving but still big sound. Kiszka’s alternating of vocal fry and sweet sound creates a tension that is unnerving. The guitars here are jangly, much more jangly than Jimmy Page ever would have produced. They enhance that feeling of danger with no where to run. To be honest, this song reminds me more of late 70s Rush (think 2112) or progressive rock than Zep.

The final song on the EP, “My Way Soon”, is more like 70s power pop, especially Badfinger. Think of 1971’s power pop classic Straight Up, which spawned great hits such as “Baby Blue” and one of my favorites, “Day After Day”. Here, the guitar jangle creates a lighter feel and harmonizes with the vocal more. It’s classic power pop, but with a fresh face.

I think Greta Van Fleet has gotten a bad rap from Led Zeppelin fans that wanted a new Zep and found them not exactly that. That’s because they aren’t Zeppelin and instead are a very different band of which 70s blues rock was only one influence. They also suffered because of their age. Critics expected them to be a more mature band than they were, and judged them harshly for not meeting that expectation.

The direction this EP shows is a positive one. They are experimenting with style and their songwriting has improved dramatically. This is a band I always liked for their talent and for their musical leanings. They have built on those strengths and are maturing into an even better band. I look forward to their next full album.

And the critics, who themselves don’t have a fraction of the the talent these young people exhibit, can go back to listening to the same Led Zeppelin albums over and over until their ears bleed. They don’t want something new anyway.