Popular music had been wildly unpredictable recently. Phoebe Bridgers called David Crosby “a little bitch.” Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Lil Nas X went—in the span of a few years—from riding a horse to riding the devil. And yet among all this, quite predictably, Greta Van Fleet put out another middling album that was lambasted by critics.
Greta Van Fleet is made up of brothers Josh (vocals), Jake (guitar,), and Sam Kitszka (bass, keyboards), as well as non-brother, but fellow Michigander Danny Wagner (drummer).
The Battle at Garden’s Gate is their sprawling new album. Coming in at 12 songs and at over an hour long, it’s a slog. Whatever grandiose concoction of energy and epic the band is attempting gets lost about 15 minutes in. The tracks lack a sense of continuous tension. There’s no meaningful climaxes to be found on The Battle at Garden’s Gate.
One of the most glaring flaws on the album is the awful lyrics. Rock bands aren’t traditionally known for their lyrics, but Greta Van Fleet pride themselves on theirs. In an interview with The Guardian Josh Kitszka said the band’s “philosophical” lyrics were inspired by childhood reading of Nietzsche and Sartre.
An example of the band’s stark and philosophically profound lyrics that can be found on The Battle at Garden’s Gate is on the track “My Way, Soon”:
I’ve seen many people
There are so many people
Some are much younger people
And some are so old
Hell is other people.
And the lyrics don’t get better. Cliché lines are all over the album, like on “Broken Bells” where we get the insanely unique image of a flower growing between the cracks of a sidewalk. Is this a callback to Tupac? Or just more heaping of generic relatable images?
It’s not hard to picture Van Fleet touring for this album in the future. Lead singer Josh Kiszka on stage with a plastic Guitar Hero guitar—colored buttons and all—absolutely belting out his best Robert Plant. The audience all singing along to “Highway Song”, then staring at the tacky pyrotechnics and lasers for the rest of the show. The crowd all having flashbacks of being a kid stuck in the backseat of the car while the same classic rock CDs are played on repeat.
Plenty of Greta Van Fleet reviews have been written like the above paragraph. They’re an easy band to roast, but that doesn’t quite give them their fair shake. There’s a reason Greta Van Fleet’s popular. They make songs people engage with. The band members are young and obviously talented musicians. Some of the criticisms of the band have started to get out of hand.
Lead singer Josh Kiszka had his singing compared to “an ejaculating hyena” by The Guardian and was described as a “comically skyscraping falsetto” by Variety. His voice is fine. It’s definitely weird, but what rocker’s voice isn’t?
But it’s hard to argue with the criticisms that Greta Van Fleet’s music is often bland and repetitive. They take themselves too seriously, especially with their lyrics. They have the potential to be a really fun band. There are three songs on The Battle at Garden’s Gate that have exciting elements that seem to prove they’re heading the right way.
1. “My Way, Soon” is a rock song all the way. The lyrics, as quoted before, aren’t all that impressive, but that’s fine in rock! It would be nice if the band embraced the less pretentious lyrics of this song more. The music and lyrics feel like they’re not trying so hard. They embrace the casual ride of the song.
2. “Light My Love” is a lovely sounding song. Kitszka gets a little more soulful in the last 50 seconds of this song. The less strained his voice sounds, the better and less jarring the music is.
3. “Tears Of Rain” is a much needed break from the guitar heavy tracks of this album. It may not quite be a ballad, but it adds some much-needed diversity to The Battle at Garden’s Gate. The subdued nature of the instruments on this track further proves that Greta Van Fleet sound better when they don’t try so hard to sound over-the-top majestic.
So, what does this album review all add up to? Is The Battle at Garden’s Gate boring? Yes. Does Greta Van Fleet deserve the massive audience they have? Probably not. But they are just a couple pretentious 20-somethings trying to emulate their heroes. Give em a chance to figure it out. Let’s give em a few years and a couple albums to find their sound.
As long as the Kiszka triumvirate and drummer don’t butcher another song as bad as their version of “A Change is Gonna Come,” they have a promising future. That change will hopefully come for their sound and style.
In the case of Greta Van Fleet v. the Music Criticism Community, the judge finds the kids—who just happen to be in their 20s—are alright.
Stream The Battle at Garden’s Gate here