Collector of the BBC's Sound of 2024 and winner of a Rising Brit, five-piece British rock band The Last Dinner Party's hotly awaited first album Prelude to Ecstasy is finally out. Determined to defy accusations of being "industry plants" and currently touring the UK, have this group succeeded in their debut collection? Our rrramblers had thoughts:
I am always a little sceptical when an act seems to become an overnight success. There’s a nagging sense someone has decided for me that I’m supposed to like this; a confluence of record labels, marketing agencies, and social media algorithms conspiring to create the next big thing. These acts often feel gimmicky, with a sound simultaneously overproduced and unsure of itself. They leave me sad that so much of our creativity is dominated by corporations, or worse, that I’m out of touch and no longer understand what the cool young people listen to.
When I first heard The Last Dinner Party on the radio a few months ago, I was enamoured by their debut track and their story of playing the London scene for years before releasing their music publicly. But I was also filled with that same sceptical dread: could such a fresh band ever live up to the hype of a viral hit?
Prelude to Ecstasy has proved the perfect album to pull me out of my cynical little hipster hole. Every song is rich and energetic, layered with sound in a way that lets the passion and dedication of the artists shine. I’m actually struggling to listen to it all the way through, because I keep wanting to rewind and hear every little detail.
I will admit that I’m a Radio 6 indie-art-rock loser who still owns a CD player, so this album is pure Isaac-bait. It’s pretentious in a fun way, inviting you in a sonic bath that brings together elements of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Cocteau Twins, Florence + the Machine, and just a bit of ABBA. The album soaks you through with deep, swooping vocals, then pulls you under with weighty lyricism and wailing soprano. And it’s all garnished with a purely orchestral title track. If they’d thrown in a 7-minute song at the end, it would have ticked all my boxes.
As much as it’s difficult to talk about this album without appearing pompous, I really do think this is an album for everybody. Yes, Prelude to Ecstasy is arty and pretentious, but it’s saved from annoying hipsterdom by its sincerity, one that validates you with its heartbroken vocals and dance rhythms. Every song starts as a puzzle, with someone trying to take ownership of their life and loves in a world wrapped up in the desires of others. Everything else in the elaborate production follows on from the need to give voice to this feeling. Each element is intentionally placed by people who care about what they have to say, so instead of a struggling mess of sounds, there’s a finely woven garment that leaves you… empowered.
The feelings in this album are complicated and messy, and often sad. But it’s the kind of mess inherent to being a person, conveyed so precisely and beautifully that it does away with any sense Prelude is out of touch or isolated. This is a record that cuts through the noise to make you feel heard, and that is powerful.
It may have been less than a year since The Last Dinner Party released their debut single, but they have quickly established themselves as an indie darling. Every single this band has released since ‘Nothing Matters’ in April 2023 has gained them more traction and anticipation for this first album. I don’t remember being this excited for a debut.
Prelude to Ecstasy is ambitious in its themes, tackling misogyny, female rage, fragile masculinity, hubris, religion, sex, relationships, and queerness – all in the space of 41 minutes. The writing is spectacular and allows the album to deliver on its lofty expectations. Songs like ‘Caesar on a TV Screen’, ‘Sinner’ and ‘My Lady of Mercy’ are littered with literary, historical and religious references and, whilst maybe a tad pretentious in places, you never feel like you’re being talked down to. Singer Abigail Morris has the voice and the charisma to carry the grandeur of the album’s themes, injecting power and passion to each song.
Musically, it’s no less impressive. The title track is a baroque-inspired opener that’s cinematic in its gravitas, like the opening to gladiator games. There is some outstanding instrumentation, from the haunting outro of ‘On Your Side’ to the guitar-laden, rock-driven ‘Portrait of a Dead Girl’. The record plays with different genres and tempos well, rarely feeling clunky or disorganised. Only ‘Gjuha’ feels a little out of place, though this is still lovely as keyboardist Aurora Nishevci is allowed to sing in her Albanian mother-tongue.
My other small criticism is that a couple of songs don’t fully land. As nice as the first half of 'Beautiful Boy' is, it gets boring after that, while the closing track 'Mirror' suffers from a slightly underwhelming start, before it crescendos into the epic finale this album deserves.
‘The Feminine Urge’ is the best track: a catchy tune perfectly capturing how it feels to be oppressed by the patriarchy. This one explores gender roles and stereotypes, the male gaze and the struggle we face for control over our own lives. The lyric “I know it so well / To nurture the wounds my mother held” highlights the never ending cycle of trauma and violence perpetrated against women and queer people. Clearly, the narrator wants to break this “curse” we inherit from the generations before us and centuries of fighting for our freedom. It’s a proud feminist anthem without being preachy. Not bad for a song named after a meme.
Prelude to Ecstasy delivers on everything it promises. It’s a powerhouse of a debut that is fun and interesting to listen to, whilst equally thought-provoking and deep. The Last Dinner Party have their own unique style that’s reflected in their sound. They should be on everyone’s radar and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
Review edited by Tom