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Album Review

Robert Plant, is that you?

I had to wonder after listening to Greta Van Fleet's buzz-generating double EP, From the Fires. That's because frontman Josh Kiszka so utterly nails the Led Zeppelin icon's caterwauling wail that you'd think a cache of buried Zep demos had just been excavated—never mind that the 21-year-old singer was born nearly two decades after that band made its last record.

Meanwhile, Josh's twin brother, Jake, cops Jimmy Page's blues-rock guitar riffs with similarly eerie aplomb. In fact, it's almost impossible to overstate how totally these two siblings, along with younger bro Sam and drummer Danny Wagner, nail Led Zeppelin's early '70s rock vibe.

In a music landscape where rock is, at the very least, on life support, Greta Van Fleet's explosive energy and vintage sound are prompting some industry observers to hold off penning the genre's final obituary.

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"Edge of Darkness," despite its ominous title, finds these guys longing for peace, love and meaning: "Always searching for love/Always searching for light," Josh Kiszka sings. He adds, "All my brothers, we stand/For the peace of the land," and sings, "I've got love in my heart/For army apart"

The band covers Sam Cooke's 1964 classic "A Change Is Gonna Come," where a man hopes for better days despite the troubled ones he's already endured: "There been times I thought I couldn't last for long/But now I think I'm able to carry on/It's been a long, a long time coming/And I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will."

"Meet on the Ledge" (another cover, this time of Fairport Convention's 1968 tune) ponders a reunion of sorts in the afterlife: "Meet on the ledge, we're gonna meet on the ledge/When my time is up, I'll see all my friends." "Talk on the Street" vaguely describes beginning of a new life after time spent on the run from unnamed problems and pursuers: "Follow me down/To the mountain of the sun/Forgetting the end/As your new life has begun."

"Black Smoke Rising" apparently addresses economic injustice. The song criticizes the rich and powerful, those who reside in a "tower," a place "where they look out to the land" and "spit down to the earth" in order "to feel the power pouring in the veins." Those down below, however, vow determined resistance: "We won't stand alone, we will stand up in the cold."

Objectionable Content

Album opener "Safari Song" practically pleads for physical contact. It even appropriates the word "mama" in a sensual way, similar to how Robert Plant often used that word: "Oh mama/What you gonna do with all that love in your heart/ … Oh mama, when you walk this way, why don't you give some lovin'?" Later we hear, "Gotta get you lovin', baby, your lovin' is all I need." (I think it's safe to say he's talking about more than getting a sweet Valentine's Day card here.) "Highway Tune" likewise revels in a woman's sensuality: "You are my special/You are my midnight … /So sweet/So fine/So nice/Oh my/ … Ohhh sugar."

A man's lover seems to be pregnant in the very Summer of Love-ish "Flower Power": "And now she walks kinda funny/I think she knows/Day by day by day/Our love grows." While that's not problematic in and of itself, there's no hint of a marital relationship here. Lyrics elsewhere could be heard as mild innuendo (or, in contrast, merely as romantic sentiments): "Turn to Night, firelight/Stars shine in her eye/Makes me feel like I'm alive/She's outta sight, yeah."

"Black Smoke Rising" perhaps alludes to an armed conflict between the haves and the have-nots: "And the black smoke rises/From the fires, we've been told/It's the new age crisis/And we will stand up in the cold."

Summary Advisory

The big story with Greta Van Fleet is how much this rock quartet (named after a woman in the guys' hometown of Frankenmuth, Michigan) sounds like latter-day Zeppelin.

As for Greta Van Fleet's lyrics, well, they're as simple and spare as the band's stripped-down, rock-'n'-roll sound. Suggestive winks are frequent, but not too explicit. These sly nods to sex would have been right at home on the radio in, say, 1969. Greta Van Fleet also cops that era's troubled-but-optimistic outlook on the world. Conflict abounds, and struggles are many, but the band still clings to hope for change and a better tomorrow.

The result is a love letter to a revolutionary time in rock 'n' roll history—and one that exemplifies many of the idealistic virtues and lusty problems of the age to which it so studiously pays homage.

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Peaked at No. 36 on the Billboard 200, topped the Hard Rock Albums chart.

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November 10, 2017

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Adam R. Holz

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