Greta Van Fleet, Anthem of the Peaceful Army ***
The Struts, Young and Dangerous ***1/2
Like the mid-70s bloat that whelped punk, and the post-grunge end-of-the-century vacuum that delivered TV On The Radio, The Yeah Yeahs Yeahs, The White Stripes and The Strokes, a new rawk day seems to be a-dawnin’ in this manicured pop moment. You hear it in a surge of potent woman-led indie acts, in mainstream country artists channeling heartland rock, in Americana bands re-purposing Southern rock. With Greta Van Fleet and The Struts — somewhat startlingly — you hear it in undiluted, largely unironic classic rock, a style of music that keeps getting written off as irrelevant, even as it never quite goes away.
Greta Van Fleet seem like they lept fully-formed from the skull of a rock critic in 1975. Three brothers and a bud from a tourist town near Saginaw, Michigan, they come bearing shamelessly recycled Zeppelin-isms with a frontman who seems to have heard Rush’s “2112” a few times. Generations of hair-metal bands, parodists like Spinal Tap, post-modernists like the White Stripes, and script-flippers from Heart to Dread Zeppelin are history to them. They were roughly kindergarten-aged when School Of Rock premiered, and never had to wonder “what about the voice of Geddy Lee?” — evidently, they just thought it was rad.
There’s an element of the ridiculous in this. But there’s also a charm to their guileless, retro-fetishist conviction. And dudes have chops. “Age of Man” is lighters-up prog-rock spirituality. “Cold Wind” and “When The Curtain Falls” flaunt the physical graffiti that got them noticed. The scream on “Lover Leaver” conjures the money shot finale of “Whole Lotta Love,” although this ascends where Zep’s descends. Lyrics could help push this past nostalgia, the way Amy Winehouse spun Motown, mascara, and beehives. But the writing isn’t there. “You’re The One,” a come-back-to-me plea to an “evil” girl, rhymes “young and pretty” with “ain’t that a pity.” And while “Brave New World” gets surprising mileage out of the words “acid rain,” even the drug references are dated (NB: The defunct Obetrol was re-formulated and branded as Adderall in mid-‘90s). “Anthem” asks “Where is the music, tune to free the soul/A simple lyric to unite us all?” They don’t answer the question. But if they digest their influences, they might some day.
The Struts, hailing from the UK, have a head start on the revivalist circuit – two years into the game, in 2014, they opened for the Stones in Paris, before even releasing their debut LP Everybody Wants, a flash pot of musical theater shtick, glam-rock camp and pop-punk snot that suggested a band in on the joke but still committed to it. Frontman Luke Spiller – even the name is a punchline — is a mix of Freddie Mercury, Noel Gallagher and Julian Casablancas, has a thing for trilling his Rs, and clearly never met a hand-clap-driven shout-along he didn’t adore. “Kiss This” was the band’s first notable achievement, and their second LP advances the notion that maybe ignoring the last 30 or 40 years of pop trends isn’t the best approach. The writing-production firepower includes Lauren Christy (of The Matrix), Jon Levine (Dua Lipa, Rachel Platten) plus English yeomen Ray Hedges and Nigel Butler.
Spiller slings one-liners like a rock’n’roll Henny Youngman: “Hey you! Don’t you know who I think I am?!” he declares on “Primadonna Like Me.” He even gets sincere from time to time, with full schmaltz: see “Ashes (Part 2),” a cross between a Bat Out Of Hell outtake and hairmetal Maroon 5. “Body Talks” is this set’s “Kiss This,” an over the top chant-pop anthem that’s winning on first listen, irritating soon after. It’s one part Bo Diddley, two parts Motley Crue, and if it fails to be more than the sum of its “woo!”s, it’s still effective, and gets bonus points for the remix with Kesha, who remains the ruling classic rock retro-fetishist, even if she came to role sideways. At least the boys knew enough to put her on a throne in the video.