25 Years Ago: Fugazi Pursue Restraint With ‘Steady Diet of Nothing’
Just months before Nirvana would usher in the grunge phenomenon with Nevermind, many eyes were on post-hardcore band Fugazi and the group's second full-length effort, Steady Diet of Nothing, which arrived in July 1991.
The notoriously press-averse and fiercely independent group had relentlessly toured behind 1990's Repeater, commanding a more-than respectful following throughout North America and Europe, routinely selling out venues with 1,000-person capacities.
One could argue it was Fugazi's relentless tour ethic that may have inadvertently helped shape Steady Diet of Nothing. Where their previous effort was content to reside within a specific happy dissonance that thrived on abstract guitar tones and a healthy dose of tension, Steady Diet of Nothing served notice to the world that the group had become more deliberate, but no less intense, with their songwriting approach.
The intensity heard throughout the record was reportedly no accident. Fugazi guitarist-vocalist Guy Picciotto said the group's overall mindset was also feeling the tension stemming from the first Gulf War.
Led by a hypnotic buzzing of guitars, the album opens with "Exit Only," helping set the stage for the sound of a leaner, meaner Fugazi. The tension builds as Picciotto repeatedly chants "Exuent," his vocals mimicked by an electric guitar before the track hits its stride.
Even as Fugazi opted to streamline their sound somewhat, they remained as vocal as ever about social and political issues. On the pro-choice anthem "Reclamation," guitarist-vocalist Ian MacKaye acknowledges that politicians will do "what looks good...on paper," while simultaneously asserting "decisions will now be ours," before ending the song with an impassioned plea to "carry my body."
Later in the record, on "Polish," MacKaye offers a scathing commentary on mainstream media in which "we still turn on, thirty minutes long...," coincidentally foreshadowing the world's dwindling attention span, while on "Dear Justice Letter," the group addresses then recently-retired Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr., who was seen as one of the most influential and liberal justices of the last century.
Intensity didn't completely dominate Steady Diet of Nothing, however: The instrumental track "Steady Diet" gave listeners a glimpse back into their Repeater mindset while still forging confidently forward. "Long Division," basked in an earnest simplicity, dominated by one of MacKaye's more soulful, simple vocal deliveries on the record, and complemented by the bass work of Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty.
Closing the album with the anthemic "KYEO," Fugazi contemplates the aforementioned Gulf War, imploring the public to "keep our eyes open," while also vowing "we will not be beaten down."
And with that track's abrupt finish, one of Fugazi's arguably most underrated and underappreciated albums comes to a close. Interestingly, Steady Diet of Nothing is not always viewed as one of their strongest efforts. Punk News acknowledged the record has its strong moments, but also suffered from lackluster material.
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