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Fugazi: Steady Diet of NothingSteady Diet of Nothing (1991)
Reviewer Rating: 4
Contributed by: HamishHamish
(others by this writer | submit your own)
Fugazi has long been one of my favorite bands, but I was always a bit suspicious about picking up this particular CD. I had all their other albums (aside from the Instrument Soundtrack), but Steady Diet of Nothing just never leaped out at me. I had heard too many Fugazi fans refer to it as the “weak album.” One day I finally broke down and purchased it. My only regret is that I didn’t ignore the fans and pick it up sooner. Is it as good as most of their catalogue? Probably not. Is it weak? Hell no! Just because it’s not quite as good as Repeater or Red Medicine, that doesn’t mean that it’s still not fucking incredible. Even at their weakest, Fugazi still blows away 99.5% of bands out there. And no, that’s not hyperbole. I know that most of you who haven’t heard Fugazi’s music still hear about the band all the time. You hear about how they never compromise, how they’re incredibly influential, how they just keep knocking out great album after great album. You probably get annoyed and assume no band could possibly be as good as people make Fugazi out to be. That’s where you’re wrong, they’re even better.
If you haven’t heard the band before, I’ll try to summarize their sound. Take a really great drummer and bassist, playing complex but fairly orthodox rhythms. Then add two guitarists on top of that. They play really complex parts, refusing to just go with simple riffs and instead play unpredictable and unexpected things. Not only that, but they guitars are played in odd ways, making crazy sounds that you’ve never before heard a guitar play. And both of those guitarists are singers too, one with a gruff voice who either talks calmly or yells as the top of his lungs, and one who sings very flamboyantly. The lyrics are abstract and usually complex, and you have to read them multiple times to figure out just what they’re talking about, but when you do, you realize just how smart and insightful they are. And over their 15 years together, Fugazi refuses to stay stagnant. Instead of writing for an audience, they challenge themselves, always expanding their style and trying new things. Their music is not “punk” or “hardcore” in the accepted sense. Fugazi doesn’t write genres, they write music. The only problem with Fugazi is that you usually have to listen to their albums a couple times before you “get” it. If you don’t like it at first, listen a couple more times and it will hopefully sink in.
This brings us to Steady Diet of Nothing. A lot of people say it’s mellow. I fail to see this. Yeah, there are slow parts, but there are also lots of noisy, distortion-parts. In a lot of cases, the band seems to be going for a quiet/loud dynamic. And as usual, crazy guitar parts are abound. But for the first time in Fugazi history (circa-1991, that is), there are weak songs. Not painfully weak, but certainly not all that memorable. “Polish” is the one song (from an album) that Fugazi has refused to play live. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s not all that interesting either. “Reclamation” has a great opening guitar bit, but the verse is pretty dull and Ian’s vocal delivery is not his best. And “Nice New Outfit”? That track just irritates me. The guitar part doesn’t do anything and Guy’s vocals just don’t work. “Latin Roots” has some nifty guitar parts, but fails to make an impression. Four out of eleven songs being dull, you might think that this is not a great album, but that’s where you’d be wrong. The rest of the record is fabulous. “Exit Only” starts the album out fast and furious with some amazing guitar interplay and Guy’s vocals are soul-searing. “Long Division” is dark and brooding with some of Ian’s best lyrics. And did you hear the bass and drum work on that one? Mother of god! “Dear Justice Letter” starts along well enough and then it hits the jaw-droppingly great chorus. The vocal interplay between Guy and Ian is top notch, not to mention the cool part where Guy rolls his R. Every Fugazi album has that part where you just go “wow!” and that is it. Not to mention Ian’s “fuck you” to the Gulf War, “KYEO.” The way the guitar gets more and more intense blows me away every time. And to make to save time, we’ll just say that “Runaway Return” and “Steady Diet” are great.
If you’ve never heard Fugazi before, this is not the place to start. For the most part it’s amazing, but the weak spots keep it from being a good introduction to the band. For that, I suggest Repeater. And 13 Songs is really accessible in comparison to their other work, so I suppose that’s also a good place to start. I would rank the albums: 1) Repeater 2) Red Medicine 3) End Hits 4) The Argument 5) 13 Songs 6) Steady Diet of Nothing 7) In On the Kill Taker. So to sum it up, yeah it’s got weak spots. But it’s also got some absolutely incredible parts. In fact, the majority of the album is incredible. If you love Fugazi already, get this album ASAP.
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