Despite praise from the media and rock legends alike, Greta Van Fleet are not the second coming of rock n’ roll, and there isn’t going to be one.
When I asked if 2017 was the year that rock music died, I was met with many confused responses. The crux of my argument was that rock n’ roll had become culturally irrelevant. The responses I received each insisted that there were still good rock bands and that the form was still popular, both of which are true, but both also miss the point entirely. Classical music is still popular and produces great composers and performers, but it has no bearing whatsoever on culture-at-large.
At its onset in the late 1950s, rock n’ roll helped change cultural norms regarding race, sexuality and youth issues. A decade later it went on to become the center of the anti-war movement. The effects of the music spilled out into other areas of life, becoming a catalyst for social change. This is what imbued rock and roll with its relevancy. Not because it was popular or awesome, but because it was bigger than itself.
The same cannot be said today. Sure, rockers still address a lot of relevant cultural issues, but they generally don’t reach a large enough audience to become a crux of change, and so the effect is minimal. In fact it is questionable if popular music is even culturally relevant at all, given the massively increased presence of media and new technologies in our lives, which have taken the place of sitting attentively in front of the record player for hours at a time.
So when people like Slash and Robert Plant praise Greta Van Fleet as saviors of rock music, they are not talking about making it relevant again, but making it profitable. But an economically vibrant resurgence of rock concert ticket and album sales, while incredibly important to wealthy rock dinosaurs, has little bearing on our culture in any larger sense. If saving rock only means saving rock star profits, then being saved is meaningless to its fans and society in general.
On top of that, Greta Van Fleet are entirely derivative. They do not sound even a little bit original at all. They are not making new sounds or breaking new sonic grounds. They are just rehashing what rock music sounded like at its most excessive and misogynistic period during the 70s. They sound like everything punk rock was created to combat.
I am not saying they are a shitty band. They are a very talented group of songwriters and musicians, and I do not even hold being derivative against them. The boundaries of sound for rock music to push probably reached their limit long ago. But to claim they are saviors of the form, as I have seen almost every day in the music press for the past month or two, is dishonest hyperbole.
If blatant recycling is being heralded as the rebirth of rock, then there can be no doubt of its death. And so far as cultural relevance goes, it has been reincarnated stillborn.
And besides, the most exciting thing happening in rock n’ roll right now is Ghost. In an age of media saturation, to even be relevant as entertainment, it has to be about more than just the music.