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Protest music? All that and more...
on August 1, 1998
If Ian MacKaye hadn't been in Minor Threat as a teenager, no one would ever compare Fugazi to punk or protest rock. Not that there's anything wrong with those things -- I just see deeper art in _Steady Diet_ than MacKaye's old anti-drug routine. Minor Threat was fast, in-your-face, and frankly a little obvious. Fugazi is mid-tempo, jazzy, and complex. Their songs take several listens to appreciate, but the result is much more haunting.
Perhaps that's why this album's single, "Reclamation," failed to impress me; the trite political message ("We want control of our bodies") is beneath MacKaye's considerable lyrical power. On the other hand, "Stacks" and "Dear Justice Letter" have subtle rhythms and messages that take half a song to kick in, but kick in they do. As for catchy, give "Exit Only," "Runaway Return," and "KYEO" a chance, and they'll stay with you much longer than the latest teeny-bopper MTV! hit. Finally, the instrumental title track is the album's centerpiece, showing off the band's innovative rhythm section and offbeat guitar noise.
Fugazi is famous for their anti-corporate policies, but this album blows away all of the silly pop-punk that most people associate with indie purism. All of the parts fit together, and Ian MacKaye seems to have the Lou Reed License (the license that a musical genius gets to excuse his lack of singing ability). No other band could have so much talent and integrity without seeming pretentious -- and this album has aged well, unlike most rock from 1991 (play some old Nirvana songs to see what I mean). So if you want to hear which "alternative" band *should* have defined the early nineties, look no further -- just don't sell it short by calling it protest music.