Greta Van Fleet lacks originality in ‘Anthem of the Peaceful Army’

Greta Van Fleet
Anthem of the Peaceful Army

Republic Records · October 26, 2018

This album is a perfect example of the disconnect between the critical world and the everyday listener.

If you’ve heard the name Greta Van Fleet, you’ve likely heard the name Led Zeppelin somewhere in its immediate syntactic vicinity. The comparison has followed them since the beginning, and it certainly doesn’t look to be leaving them alone any time in the future.

Greta Van Fleet had a lot to live up to with their first album. The band was off to a flying start with near-instant success with their first two EPs, topping Billboard charts left and right. However, even with such popular success, the band still drew criticism for their seeming lack of novelty.

The advent of Anthem of the Peaceful Army hasn’t done much to quell these complaints. In a brutal review, Pitchfork gave the album a 1.6/10, and plenty of other reviews have contained similar sentiments. Though Pitchfork’s review in particular is quite exaggerated, if you dig down underneath, most of the points made are on-the-nose, reasonable claims. Despite all that, the more unanimous popular response is quite positive, to the point that Pitchfork’s review seemed to generate more animosity towards the website itself than towards the album.

Generally, people outside of the critical realm seem to really, truly enjoy the album, and though it has its faults, there is also good reason to enjoy it. The album opens with ‘Age of Man,’ which starts you off on an adventure through a wealth of pleasantly nostalgic songs laden with catchy riffs. Overall, Greta Van Fleet seems to have mastered the art of drawing people in – each song, one after another, is enthralling in its own way. Some, like ‘Watching Over,’ simmering up as the song builds, others, such as ‘When The Curtain Falls,’ hooking you right from the start. The lyrics dance between lighthearted and narrative from song to song, yet overall, the album maintains a thread of continuity from start to finish.

This album, for these reasons, is a perfect example of the disconnect between the critical world and the everyday listener. Sure, plenty of music may have faults in the critical lens, but most people will go on and enjoy it nonetheless. These two different realms of critical and casual have such different takes on what is good and what is bad – does it matter more if the music is novel, unique, groundbreaking? Or does is matter more that it’s actively fun to listen to, that it brings people enjoyment? It’s hard to draw the line between the two – both are fundamental to the musical experience and are deeply rooted in each other. However, one thing is certainly clear, as we can see with the mixed bag of popular and critical opinions regarding this album – to lean too far to either side fails to paint a representative picture of the true merit of a song or album.

The boys in Greta Van Fleet have a ways to go in terms of maturing as musicians, and building up sound and reputation of their own. However, in the interim, it can be expected that their releases will continue to reach considerable chart success and popular approval. After all, it may not be quite “good,” but it sure as hell is fun to listen to.

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