'The swarming guitars at the beginning of "Turnover" tell you that Repeater is going to be really different to their previous work.' 'The swarming guitars that kick off "Exit Only" let you know that Steady Diet Of Nothing will be nothing like the band have ever done before.' 'Those swarming guitars at the start of "Facet Squared" are a telltale sign that In On The Kill Taker will be a new experience to Fugazi fans.' Or words to that effect, penned to all three of these consecutive albums. The band's full length releases certainly do all have a unique flavour, but swarming guitars don't separate them.
Steady Diet... is not Fugazi's worst record. I'm not going to build it up as an unappreciated masterpiece that turns out to be the magnum opus. It isn't, but it is pretty nifty. "Exit Only" swarms in (sorry!) ominously, and the rhythm section kicks in soon after. Everything ceases save for a few stray notes, almost as if the band is making a sarcastic homage to their well known "Waiting Room", the groovy opener to the Fugazi EP and 13 Songs compilation that pauses more cleanly during the introduction. As with several of Guy Picciotto's songs, the lyrics aren't particularly accessible or interesting (especially once you read up and realise he's chanting "sympatric", not "St Patrick"), but it's all in the delivery, which veers unpredictably between Picciotto's typically flamboyant whine and a relatively gruff, stout output. The music is also varied nicely, switching well between tense and aggressive, making the opener a great track, if you don't mind the way it takes its time getting into gear.
Momentum is lost early on, which always helps a record be ignored. "Reclamation" is a predictably direct Ian MacKaye fingerpointer that follows in the footsteps of "Suggestion". Despite being perhaps the best-surviving song from the album on the Fugazi setlist, it's incredibly dull. The intro builds up in a way that implies a song that's going to contain a lot of energy, but within twenty seconds you've given that up. MacKaye's delivery is not his best, the verses drag on, and the monolinear chorus falls flat as a pancake. It's so boring, that you're almost convinced at first that "Nice New Outfit" is going to be a good track that gets the album back on the rails. It has the upper hand on "Reclamation" in that it's reasonably energetic, but the guitars are still fairly bland, and Picciotto's lyrics are on the inane side. You won't be craving the end of the track like with the last one, but if not for Joe Lally and Brendan Canty, you probably would have given up by now. The drums and bass are relatively strong on this album, and this is only enhanced by weaker songs.
MacKaye's back with "Stacks", which turns things around. It even tricks you into thinking it's going to be slightly boring and threatens to break out a few times without doing so. But even at its slowest, it's a reasonably upbeat track that'll have your head bobbing and your foot tapping, and the chorus is memorable if perhaps not catchy. The track kind of peters out, a sudden stop about 40 seconds early would have worked pretty well, but it's got us back on track. "Latin Roots" sees the guitars get more interesting after what seems like a long period of relative simplicity. It's not a spectacular track, plodding at times, but you do get the satisfying feeling that all four band members are working. More confusion ensues when Picciotto and MacKaye appear to insist that it's time for us to "meet Jamaicans". I'm spared further misinterpretation blunders for a few minutes, as we're treated to the instrumental centrepiece and nearly titular "Steady Diet", which really does see the band all working. It's not the most energetic instrumental in the band's canon ("Brendan #1" pips "Number 5" to that accolade), but it's intricate and urgent, although a touch long.
The record has grown in strength by this point, and despite having the power reined in with "Long Division", it's still a great song. Mellow but dour, and with a tricky rhythm section to complement the easy guitar tune. MacKaye's plain delivery works nicely here too. It's short too, so it isn't very long before "Runaway Return" comes in with relatively brutal effect. If only the guitars had more oomph, it would be a really powerful track. It sounds great on a lot of those live recordings kicking around, but it's a little strangled here. It's still good, but you can tell that it's one of the biggest victims of the dull mix. The chorus is a little flat musically save for Lally's bassline. The disappointment is followed by a mediocre track. "Polish" isn't horrible, and not really deserving of the prize of being that song that the band would never play. It's quite bland though, and just when you think it's going to end with a modicum of strength, that peters out like "Stacks" did.
And so, the album predictably divebombs from there. No it doesn't, I lied. "Dear Justice Letter" is fantastic, with the exception of a brief, languid excuse for a guitar lick just after the song was promising a crescendo. Picciotto's vocals are on top form, he shows off a rolling R, and MacKaye's backing vocals work a treat. Canty's drums pound, and the guitars sneer. Finally, on the last song, MacKaye gives us a real anthem. It's a reworking of an older song that originally had the one guitar, as "KYEO" was conceived long before Picciotto provided the band with his box of tricks. Catchy hooks, a driving rhythm section and MacKaye doing what he does best make the album's closer what "Reclamation" should have been. Powerful, fist-pumping rock.
Steady Diet Of Nothing is by no means a classic, but if you can dig more than just "Waiting Room", you can probably dig this. It isn't consistent, but Lally and Canty keep things together through the weak moments, and provide a great foundation for some real gems from MacKaye and particularly Picciotto.
Personal picks: Dear Justice Letter, Exit Only, Long Division
Picks for others: KYEO, Long Division, Runaway Return
Relative weaknesses: Reclamation, Polish
01 - Exit Only
02 - Reclamation
03 - Nice New Outfit
04 - Stacks
05 - Latin Roots
06 - Steady Diet
07 - Long Division
08 - Runaway Return
09 - Polish
10 - Dear Justice Letter
11 - KYEO