I hadn’t realized until this moment that I associate most Fugazi records with specific seasons. “13 Songs” was a winter album. “Repeater” was a summer album. “Steady Diet of Nothing” took me back to winter.
That’s appropriate, given that winters where I grew up were long and boorish, a seemingly infinite slog of depression. “Steady Diet” is kind of like that.
“Steady Diet of Nothing” is my least favorite Fugazi album, mostly because there’s so little variation to it. The songs all have the same basic feel to them. The dynamics that were building on “Repeater” seemed to take a back seat on this album. It felt like a much less adventurous album, as if the band had discovered a sound that they weren’t quite sure about, but were willing to play over and over and over again in hopes of getting it right.
Fugazi didn’t evolve like I’d expected them to.
Don’t get me wrong, “No Exit” has a nice climax, although it’s so insubstantial up until that point that almost anything would have felt climatic. “Reclamation” is a stand out, and more of the type of thing I was expecting from them given the songs on “Repeater.” But “Nice New Outfit” introduces a rhythmic guitar part that seems to show up in some form or another on multiple songs. Coupled with the similar structure of a lot of the songs, the whole album feels monotone.
The songs aren’t as dynamic as they were on the first two albums. Fugazi was always a band that could make the most out of one or two parts for an entire song, but there was never a lack of depth or complexity. Long Division” is a great song, but it’s ostensibly one part over and over again, much the way “No Exit” was just two parts. Everything’s at the same tempo, all the songs are fairly simple.
“Nice New Outfit” to “Stacks” to “Latin Roots” could be the most redundant section of the record. The famous start/stop dueling guitars of Fugazi are on display, but it seems like they don’t know how to use them yet.
There’s also a darkness to this album. There was a certain amount of punk rock joy on “13 Songs,” and you could actually feel the creative excitement on “Repeater.” That seems to have been sapped for “Steady Diet of Nothing.”
The successful songs on this record are the ones that have a hook of some kind. “Reclamation” is a classic, built around a singular guitar sound and a wonderful bass line. “Polish” is the culmination of what every other song on this record was trying to do. “KYEO” could have been on “Repeater.” The duel vocals push the song forward and the alternate chorus elevates the song and the final few “we will not be beaten down” resonate in a way that nothing else on the album does.
Looking at this record as a piece of the entire Fugazi catalog, this might be the most transitional record they produced. You can see the germs of what would become the next record already beginning to form. The Fugazi sound was starting to materialize.
Let’s face facts: a mediocre Fugazi record is still better than the majority of music out there, so this is by no means a bad album. But I was expecting something more.
I would get it in a big way with “In on the Killtaker.”