Why is anyone even talking about Greta Van Fleet when we still have The Darkness?

the Darkness
(Image: © Jude Palmer)

Believe me, I didn’t want to sucked into this whole Greta Van Fleet thing. It's going to annoy people I don't want to annoy. And I want to like them - why wouldn’t I? - but I read Dave Everley’s piece on GVF the other day, then watched The Darkness live in Glasgow and… waitafuckinminutehere.

Of course, Dave is being charitable, some might say soft, on Greta Van Fleet. They’re young, he says, give em a break. It could be good for the rock scene, he says: a rising tide lifts all boats and all that. 

And, he says, they might not be that original (no shit) but they’re young! Three brothers who love their rock and can play their instruments! The guitarist plays solos behind his head! The kid can sing!

As they say in Glasgow: big fucking wow. 

Is this really all we ask of our rock stars now? Has the bar really been lowered that far?

I wondered this while watching The Darkness play a corporate gig for the launch of Marshall beer in Glasgow on Wednesday night. 

Because, weirdly, the two bands actually have a lot in common. Consider:

1) The Darkness: also brothers. Not 'young', as such but – and I know the only bands I go see are a load of ancient old scrotes – I was struck by how good they look. They’ve all got their own hair and teeth and everything! (In fact, Frankie Poullain has more hair than the rest of the audience put together - he’s like a permanent reminder that Marouane Fellaini isn’t trying hard enough in any department.) Justin is thin, healthy and full of fucking nonsense – a truly great frontman: a singer! A guitar player! A stuntman! A fearless, piss-taking showman!

2) The Darkness had massive success with Permission To Land – and it did not usher in a new wave of rock bands. It barely even guaranteed them ongoing success.

3) The Darkness: not the most original band in the world and yet, while their sound was instantly familiar – a touch (too much) of AC/DC, a smidge of Queen, an embarrassing wet patch of Van Halen etc – The Darkness actually sound completely unique and instantly identifiable. 

4) The Darkness: they can play and the guy can sing too. He plays guitar behind his head, on his side, on the shoulders of a roadie walking him through the crowd – and, lest we forget, sometimes while riding a white tiger over the audience at Wembley fucking stadium. 

 

In short, The Darkness are a different league. The bar was set higher for them and they routinely jumped over it – usually in a catsuit open at the chest while playing a ridiculously-difficult guitar solo for a song as catchy, and actually about, genital warts.

It speaks volumes that when Marshall Amplification were literally organising a piss-up in a brewery, a Glaswegian brewery at that, they booked The Darkness. When you’re throwing a party that requires great beer, good times, quality rock music and great musicianship in front of one of the toughest crowds in the world – an audience that can sniff out weakness in seconds and love nothing better than ripping the piss out of bands that are all hype and no trousers – The Darkness are the perfect act.

There was a time that a band from Lowestoft couldn’t come to Glasgow and say, “If you don’t jump up and down I’m going to come and smash you in the face with my Les Paul” but those days are gone. Justin Hawkins says exactly that and the people of Glagow actually jump up and down. No-one even has to be restrained (“Forget it Davey, he’s no’ worth it, son!”) because The Darkness have a get-out-of-jail pass. They’re funny, yeah - Van Halen remodelled by Vic and Bob - but they’re also killer

Where Greta Van Fleet competently deliver the cliches, The Darkness take the cliches, turn them inside out, set them on fire, snort the ashes - and make it all look effortless. 

Because The Darkness realised that rock music was in such a bad state that if they were going to break through, they’d have to overcome a lot of hurdles. They had to bring something new with the old. Greta Van Fleet’s songs are functional, shameless pastiches of Zeppelin songs while, at their best, The Darkness showed a new way for rock music to go. Lyrics that were clever and relatable - that shat solid gold - and added something new to the rock vocabulary, wrapped around melodies that redefined ‘singalong’. 

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," you’re saying, "fair enough, but I don’t want my rock to be funny."

I hear you. We’re living in a new age of sincerity. (Groucho Marx: “The secret of life is honesty and sincerity – and if you can fake those you’ve got it made.”) It’s a culture where experts are sneered at, news is fake, you have to doubt everything, we're taking two steps forward and five steps back and you’re not allowed to laugh anymore. 

Maybe Greta Van Fleet are the perfect soundtrack.

When Kingdom Come – another band who famously ripped off, I mean, sounded awfully similar to Led Zeppelin – came out, the music press ripped the piss out of them and killed their career. These days, Greta Van Fleet are having a comparatively soft ride. People like them: they get clicks – YouTube views, Spotify plays – and that’s all the media and the music business cares about. 

The power’s in your hands now. The public decides what’s cool, what music is worthwhile. 

The question is: is this the best you can do?