Dazed and Confused: Millennial Fetishization of Flower Power Forgets the Meaning of Freedom

Isabella Levine, age 17

The bluesy riffs and screeching vocals of Greta Van Fleet, a young four-piece from Michigan, were compared to that of Led Zeppelin after their 2017 double EP topped rock charts. However, the group’s debut album, “Anthem of the Peaceful Army,” shows that while lead singer Josh Kiazka’s best howl may land in the realm of Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant’s, the likeness stops there. The seeds of a potential rock revival are chewed up and spit out in an overproduced bastardization of rock that romanticizes the hippie era without any of its relevance or defiance.

Packaged in vagueness, themes about love or peace simply lack resonance for a modern audience. Climate change is touched upon in “Watching Over” when Kiazka sings, “And it’s our demise/With the water rising,” but the overtness found here is the exception rather than the rule. A more typical lyric borders on the ridiculous, like, “March to the anthem of the heart,” found on the album’s opener, “Age of Man.” Or try, “And every glow in the twilight knows/That the world is only what the world is made of,” the fluff of the acoustic tune “Anthem,” a song that might have been their “Dust in the Wind” or “Tangerine” but instead, devoid of nuance, falls flat. The track titles alone make Greta Van Fleet’s Achilles’ heel painfully clear: They are too unqualified to address these themes comprehensively yet not self-aware enough to realize it.

Occasionally, songs like “Brave New World” will border on well-realized emotion, but then Kiazka screeches, “Kill fear, the power of lies,” and we remember that the band doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Even looser romps like “The Cold Wind” feature riffs too safe to be exciting, padded with store brand hippie lyrics about this flower child or that Tolkienesque landscape.

Despite the lack of innovation, the band is at its best tackling lighter fare. “Mountain of the Sun,” a textured reprieve from cloying talk of apocalypse, builds the energy expected from a few twenty-somethings. Where much of the album is weighed down by too many instrumental tracks and postulations on the meaning of love and pain, this song soars in its simplicity. For a while, the Michigan boys don’t bite off more than they can chew, and artist and listener alike can finally enjoy themselves.

Greta Van Fleet has one foot in each time period, an imitation of flower power twisted in a how-many-Spotify-playlists-can-we-slide-into kind of way. Their sound is manufactured to be clickable. And when moments like “Mountain of the Sun” show that they don’t lack talent, just authenticity, we can only hope that the group will eventually find their own stairway to heaven.