Steady Diet of Nothing
"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. The band 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 kind of monotone.
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." Perhaps it's because of how simple many of the songs seem. I'm listening to "Long Division" right now and I think it's 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 -- it just all feels the same to me.
Interestingly enough, it's the last song, "KYEO," that stands out from the monotony. Nothing like that opening guitar line appears anywhere else on the album. The rest of the song seems to benefit from it, as even the bass/drums verse seems to have more energy to it than anything else on the record. 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 has.
In on the Killtaker
If there was a darkness about "Steady Diet of Nothing," "In on the Killtaker" was Fugazi exorcising it.
"Killtaker" alternately features the most aggressive and, up until that point, the most beautiful songs Fugazi had recorded.
If you were unsure what you were going to get after "Steady Diet of Nothing," you knew from the first song, "Facet Squared." Open with some playful guitar noises, lay down a nice bass/drums groove, then explode into a driving, closed fist punch of a song, complete with McKaye's forceful, grunting vocals. This is a Fugazi that will not be ignored, something that was easy to do on the last album. They're not holding back this time around.
Still unsure? Welcome to "Public Witness Program." They're in full on attack mode now, yet the vocals are only getting more and more catchy. The guitar interplay at around the 1:15 mark lets you know that this energy isn't for show; you're going to get Fugazi's all on this record, and nothing less.
Then we get the first wild card: "Returning the Screw." It's quiet and sparse, but McKaye's vocals tell you
I could go on and on about "Smallpox Champion," but it would just be sad because I love the hell out of that song. When they move into the second half of the song, I get goosebumps.
And that's just the first four songs! I haven't even gotten to "Rend It," "Sweet and Low," "Walken's Syndrome," or, perhaps the best song on the album and the best "slow" song Fugazi has ever recorded, "Last Chance for a Slow Dance." This was clearly a band on a mission.
It's interesting to note the titles of the four albums I've talked about so far. "13 Songs" is almost tongue in cheek, like a refusal to actually name the collection of songs from two EPs. In Fugazi's mind, it wasn't even an album at all, but a compilation.
Apparently, "Repeater" wasn't just named after the song, but was a play on the Beatles "Revolver," since a revolver is both a type of gun and a recorded -- the same as a repeater. What better sign is there of a band embracing their creative energies than by dropping an allusion like that?
But the playfulness of the first two albums disappears and we get "Steady Diet of Nothing." Not exactly a shiny, happy album name. And then what comes after that? "In on the Killtaker." It's like depression and aggression, back to back.
This was all a part of the evolution of Fugazi, and evolution that would grow by leaps in bounds on the next two records.