Graham: Greta Van Fleet, the box office benefit from consumers’ love of the past

The Detroit News

The debut album from Frankenmuth-bred rockers Greta Van Fleet was dubbed “stiff, hackneyed, overly precious retro-fetishism” in a vicious takedown this week, and that was just the subhead of the review. 

Greta Van Fleet lead singer Josh Kiszka hands out a bouquet of white roses to fans in the front row before the show.

The post was from Pitchfork, the online music magazine, which made its bones printing hyper-literate, often scathing reviews in which no punches are pulled.

Even still, this one stood out: “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” was given a 1.6, the lowest score assigned by Pitchfork to any album this year, and the review became a viral smash thanks to its unabashed savagery. 

Greta Van Fleet has become a particular lightning rod among music fans, and the dividing line seems to be whether their music is a rip-off or an homage.

That leads into a debate about whether nostalgia is better left in the past, or if everything that was old is fair game to be made new again. 

We love the past. “Halloween,” a direct sequel to the 40-year-old slasher hit, made a killing at the box office last weekend, pulling in more than $76 million and setting a record for an October opening.

This weekend brings “Mid90s,” writer-director Jonah Hill’s throwback to Los Angeles skateboarding culture, which is soundtracked by popular hip-hop of the film’s titular era. 

The 1990s and early ’00s are currently enjoying a moment in the sun when it comes to wistfulness. Charli XCX’s latest single, “1999,” is a throwback to the era of Britney Spears and *NSYNC (the video features a fun series of callbacks to “The Matrix,” the Spice Girls and “American Beauty”), while Anne-Marie’s recent “2002” kicks it old-school, or at least a 27-year-old’s idea of old-school. 

And this week brought word that “Clueless” will be remade, the only shocker being that it didn’t happen sooner. 

These are all obvious and upfront plays on the past. Greta Van Fleet — whose members weren’t alive when “Clueless” was made, to put things into perspective — is something different, unabashedly aping the sounds (and look) of 1970s classic rock, without telegraphing itself as a nostalgia act. 

The Led Zeppelin question comes up often enough that the band has had to address it, and bassist Sam Kiszka told the News earlier this year he has no problem with the comparisons. 

“I think that Led Zeppelin is the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all-time,” he said, during a phone interview in May. “There’s not many competitors to that sound. So when someone says, ‘You sound just like Led Zeppelin!’ I say, ‘thank you very much.’”

The Led Zep factor was a sticking point in the Pitchfork review, but in another example of the past repeating itself, Led Zeppelin itself was trashed in early album reviews for copying the sounds of its past. 

Greta’s fans, meanwhile, don’t have any problem embracing the group.

“Anthem of the Peaceful Army” is gunning for a top 5 debut on this week’s Billboard 200 albums chart, and the band sold out three upcoming Fox Theater concerts, following its three sold-out engagements at the Fillmore Detroit earlier this year. 

Young fans might not know Led Zeppelin from a lead balloon, or even what that reference means, but they’re embracing a tried-and-true formula that has rocked generations. 

For older fans, starved for a current rock band in a pop- and hip-hop-driven world, the familiarity of the band’s sound is comforting, and Greta Van Fleet offers a new spin on the sound they love. It’s the past, but it’s new, which is why we never stray far from the things we love, and why remakes and retreads continue to drive the culture. 

Nostalgia, it seems, never gets old.