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  • Writer's pictureNoah Castellanos

The Last Dinner Party’s Prelude to Ecstasy

I’ll be blunt; when it comes to pop music, or at least music that is enjoyed by a majority of the population, I tend to be a bit of a black sheep. Be it the classics or some more obscure artists that take a bit of work to find, few things interest me more than feeling as though I’ve discovered something brand new and sharing that thing with the world if I can.

        That said, it’s hard for me to ignore when a certain band or album manages to fly their way onto my radar based on nothing but the power of their hype alone, and that is exactly what the rock band The Last Dinner Party has been doing with their debut album, Prelude to Ecstasy. Selling out tours across Europe, playing Coachella, getting on the front page of Apple Music the day the album dropped; for being a relatively new band in the rock landscape, The Last Dinner Party managed to conjure a level of hype over the course of a year that I personally haven’t seen since maybe the debut album from the band’s fellow Englishwomen in rock (Wet Leg) a few years ago, and while that Isle of Wight duo managed to charge into the indie music scene with unapologetically strange pop-punk bangers like “Wet Dream'' and “Chaise Longue'', the singles leading up to The Last Dinner Party’s debut promised something else. Something romantic, something theatrical; something, the likes of which, haven’t been seen in the indie music scene on a grand scale in quite a while. 

The album begins with the title track (“Prelude to Ecstasy”) swooning the listener with grand displays of strings and woodwinds before building to the foreboding riff of the album’s actual opener “Burn Alive”, an 80’s pop throwback that brings about lyrics themed around love caving into desperation and pain akin to “candle wax melting in my veins” and a dark synth-pop feel that really catches the listener by surprise, considering how bombastic every tease for the album had been beforehand. Definitely a sign that the group is very eager to surprise you with what’s to come, which is always a good thing in my book.

While “Burn Alive” is still an excellent opening number in spite of how dower it presents itself, “Caesar on a TV Screen” brings about all the rocking theatrics fans had been expecting on the various singles that came before: lead vocalist Abigail Morris roping the listener in with powerful vocals and orchestral music that bounces from somber to poppy to full-on operatic by the time the song finally hits its chorus. Add to that the lyrical themes of romantic lust and gender envy that’ll be repeated throughout the album and you’ve got an excellent start for what the album truly has in store for its listeners. 

Just in case the showiness of the last track was a bit too much for you though, in comes “The Feminine Urge” to make sure the audience gets exactly what this album’s about, ringing in the main theme of romance leading into emotional pain and stress with a driving playfulness in the music and Morris’ vocals. While it’s certainly not a highlight of the album (mild spoilers for the rest of the review), it’s definitely a solid foundation for the band to build off of further down the road.

Closing out the first half of the album, we have two songs that sort of act as two sides of the same coin; “On Your Side” presents itself as a fairly standard love ballad while containing lyrics about dependency and sticking to an unsatisfying love life, while “Beautiful Boy” leaves us with the aforementioned themes of gender envy as the band breaks out into an angelic chorus halfway through the track that builds and builds to a rocking finish to the album’s first half.

Side B begins with yet another one-two combo in the track list; after the band’s pianist Aurora Nishevci guides us through the gentle harmonies of the medieval folk-sounding tune “Gjuha”, the driving piano keys of “Sinner” give way to a rocking blues chorus that gives guitarists Emily Roberts and Lizzie Mayland ample room to create a dizzying array of rhythms that, combined with the drumming work of the album’s producer James Ford, make for the most danceable track on the album thus far, in my opinion.

Now if you’ve gotten this far in the album and are still looking for a definite surprise, look no further than the track “My Lady of Mercy”, a peppy track that manages to break up the playful sound of its verses with a chorus that cranks everything up to eleven: the drums are crashing, the guitars are distorted and heavy, and the gang vocals come back as a heavenly light guiding the listener through all the noise. While I personally enjoyed this number quite a bit (especially with the second half of the song simply bowing to the sheer power that is that chorus), I can easily imagine this track being the most “love-it-or-hate-it” single off of the entire project for most people.

After the rollercoaster ride that was the previous track, I feel like it’s easy to completely forget “Portrait of a Dead Girl” that comes afterward, which is a shame; while it definitely isn’t the highlight of the album by any means, it makes the most of its nearly five minutes runtime by painting a beautiful yet gruesome portrait (*badum tss*) of a relationship quite literally falling apart at the seams (“And I wish that you had given me the courtesy/Of ripping out my throat” is maybe as visceral as the lyrics on the album get) and pairing it with another heavenly outro simply wishing for the strength to escape this romance over and over again. 

This deep into the album, you would expect the single that started this entire journey couldn’t compare at all to what came before, and yet “Nothing Matters” still manages to stand out from the crowd by bringing the glitziest, most radio-friendly 80’s throwback sound the band’s tried thus far, making use of the only explicit lyrics on the entire album and making the dedication of love in spite of unfaithfulness feel raw and desperate for affection (because the best kind of romance [for stories] is the tragic kind.) And because the album couldn’t end without one last bit of theatricality, “Mirror” picks up where “Portrait…” left off and closes the album on a driving rock ballad (crowned by a wonderfully soulful guitar solo from Emily Roberts) before leaving a moody clarinet and string arrangement as the last fleeting glimpse the listener has at the emotion-packed album that came before it.

Now while I would say that the five girls who make up the band did an excellent job overall of adapting the various sounds of the 70’s and 80’s for modern listeners, there are a couple of influences that stick out a bit more than most. While the obvious glam rock comparisons like David Bowie or Queen are easy to make, even the playfulness of the music and theatricality of Abigail Morris herself bring to mind the early works of Kate Bush or even Sparks, if you’re looking to get a bit more obscure with your excessively flamboyant rock jams. The biggest influence the band takes, however, is undoubtedly the work of the critically lauded British rock band Roxy Music, whose long rock passages on tracks like “Mother of Pearl'' and “The Thrill of It All” paired with the dulcet tones of lead singer Bryan Ferry bare more than a striking resemblance to The Last Dinner Party’s rock-centered tracks, in my opinion.

For as many similarities as they have to the bands that came before though, I can safely say that what The Last Dinner Party has managed to do on Prelude to Ecstasy more than makes up for it. Combining so many influences from across the music landscape and making them defiantly feminine while still managing to drum up heart-tugging lyrics and stellar musical performances makes Prelude to Ecstasy feel like the lavish fireplace display featured on the album’s front cover. All that on a debut album, no less!

Overall, Prelude to Ecstasy has absolutely lived up to the hype by being one of the most engaging, spontaneous, and exceptional rock albums of the year so far; easy to say, I’m very much looking forward to what the band does next, and you should as well!

I give Prelude to Ecstasy by The Last Dinner Party a solid 8/10.

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