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20th February 2024

The Last Dinner Party – Prelude to Ecstasy: A stellar debut from the UK’s most exciting new act

The Last Dinner Party cement their place as one of the most innovative up-and-coming bands in the UK, showcasing operatic vocals and evocative lyrics on their debut LP
The Last Dinner Party – Prelude to Ecstasy: A stellar debut from the UK’s most exciting new act
Raph_PH @ Wikimedia Commons

Words by Samuel Chamberlain

The Last Dinner Party have made a name for themselves as the most significant, prolific band to watch, growing a cult following through enigma and live shows in a way that is exceptionally rare in the modern music industry. Rejecting all expectations of immediate accessibility and oversaturation that characterise the digital age of streaming and social media, the band have opted instead for a natural, organic beginning, and their debut album, Prelude to Ecstasy, proves that they can pull it off.

Backed by strings and horns, the band make a bold, gallant entrance with title track and intro ‘Prelude to Ecstasy’, an instrumental which wouldn’t sound out of place in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The band themselves have described how they “summoned an orchestra” throughout their debut record, and this in itself is a perfect introduction to the extravagance and theatricality that can be found within. Beethoven’s Fifth is otherwise known as the ‘Fate Symphony’, and has been used pertinently on stage and screen for centuries to signal threat or danger; if this is a deliberate reference within ‘Prelude’, it truly is an apt one, and shows that The Last Dinner Party really do know just how to introduce themselves.

As the album progresses, however, it becomes obvious that the only danger here is the very “ecstasy” denoted in its title: entrance made, stage set, and the heat is turned up. ‘Burn Alive’ is the band’s ode to destructive love, laden with operatic vocals, vigorous instrumentation, and lyrics alluding to Joan of Arc. So begin the album’s central themes: romantic devotion, womanhood, and “the sublimity of pain.”

‘The Feminine Urge’ exemplifies singer and songwriter Abigail Morris’ sheer power over words, featuring the fantastic metaphor, “I am a dark red liver stretched out on the rocks,” a line which is bound to conjure up a gory image, being strikingly visceral. The song is an astutely feminist criticism of male perception and superficial objectification. Whether intentionally or not, ‘The Feminine Urge’ serves as a denouncement of the suppression of women in the music industry, something the band themselves will have experienced due to senselessly fabricated industry plant accusations. It might be too pedantic to wish that this song was angrier, but what is toned down here musically is indemnified both lyrically and vocally.

Reverting to a sense of romantic devotion and unconditional love, piano ballad ‘On Your Side’ sees Morris pledging herself and her efforts to a lover, displaying absolute dedication even “if it takes all night.” If any of the album’s tracks can be categorised as a tear-jerker, it’s this one: heart-wrenching lyrics and Morris’ own signature operatic vocals are complemented perfectly by Aurora Niveschi’s keys.

Opening with a gorgeous flute solo from guitarist Emily Roberts, ‘Beautiful Boy’ returns to the feminist discourse of ‘The Feminine Urge’, with Morris declaring “I wish I could be a beautiful boy.” ‘Gjuha’ acts as the album’s centrepiece, naturally dividing ‘Prelude to Ecstasy’ into two halves. The interlude sees Morris handing over her vocal reins to Niveschi, who has described the song as a response to the guilt and self-reproach she experiences for lacking fluency in her mother tongue, Albanian.

Prelude To Ecstasy album art @ The Last Dinner Party

One of the album’s most pleasing moments occurs as ‘Gjuha’ transitions into early single ‘Sinner’, proving how The Last Dinner Party seamlessly weave one song into another to form a whole which is cohesive, invigorating and captivating. ‘Sinner’ itself warrants the status of a quintessential, exemplary modern rock song, boasting guitar riffs that burst in and lash out at the listener. This song in particular has become a staple at live shows; it impeccably embodies The Last Dinner Party as a band and has transformed into a favourite of many adoring fans.

Following ‘Sinner’ is ‘My Lady of Mercy’, a song devoted to Catholic school and the complications of internal sexual understanding that come alongside it. The track feels as if it is two, conjoined in perfect chaos and backed by a powerful, punchy bassline courtesy of Georgia Davies, yet impressively it manages to avoid sounding messy or muddled. This is yet another testament to The Last Dinner Party’s skilful dynamism.

‘Portrait of a Dead Girl’ is arguably where the Kate Bush comparisons come into play. Effortlessly striking the chord between glam rock and baroque pop, the track is underlined by a vivacious riff from guitarist Lizzie Mayland, and breaks into a chant of “give me the strength” before it ends. This is sure to be an electrifying moment in the band’s live set: a song that is purely thrilling, twisting and turning in unpredictable ways.

It would be difficult to write about Prelude to Ecstasy without mentioning the influence of lead single ‘Nothing Matters’, a breath-taking song which catapulted the band out of London’s live circuits and into a sphere of eminence upon its release. The song has become somewhat of an underground hit, even breaking into the UK’s Official Singles Charts in January, mirroring in propulsion its own musical momentum.

Closing track ‘Mirror’ is the perfect finale, dissolving into an outro as seamless and theatrical as ‘Prelude’, as it builds to a crescendo of strings as the volume swells. This conclusion leaves listeners on a cliff’s edge, bringing with it both apprehension and eagerness: the album may be appropriately tied together, but what’s to come next is sure to be just as exciting.

The beauty of The Last Dinner Party is that their music is, at the end of the day, new and refreshing. With influences ranging from classical music to Catholic guilt, The Last Dinner Party endlessly break the barriers of conventional genre, building an opulent world of their own creation which is simply enthralling. It is clear that the five-piece are a concept in themselves, and if Prelude to Ecstasy is anything to go by, then stardom won’t be far away for the UK’s most exciting up-and-coming band.

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