The Last Dinner Party's 'Prelude to Ecstasy' Is Plenty Ecstatic

BY Isabel Glasgow Published Feb 5, 2024


The Last Dinner Party is total bacchanalia, and you are cordially invited. The dress code: grandiose, heart on your sleeve, a crucifix for good measure. Such was the vision conjured by five students wonderstruck by the London music scene, and as the pandemic put the world on pause, the newly-formed band began building their own. The extravagant and sensual Prelude to Ecstasy is their wine-stained toast to finding beauty in decadence, its cup runneth over with promise.

After forming in 2020, the Last Dinner Party built momentum by gigging in London, kicking around the scene and honing their sound before heading into the booth. Like fellow Brits Black Midi, their polished artistry quickly attracted industry attention, and — unlike their male peers — they were hit with a slew of “industry plant” allegations. Behind the understanding that other genders often struggle to reach the same pedestals as men lies a sadistic expectation of witnessing this struggle. Though the Last Dinner Party have found themselves caught in the eye of that long-raging storm, their music is evidence enough that none of this matters.

What really matters is “Nothing Matters,” their mischievous debut single that revels in defiance. Quivering synths and harp flourishes swell toward a bombastic chorus of “you can hold me like he held her, and I will fuck you like nothing matters,” rejoicing in the thrill of all-consuming passion. Its shameless perversion feels as freeing as the scenes of motorbikes and moonlit highways that weave around Emily Roberts’s meandering riffs, this Bonnie and Clyde-like reckless abandon reaching a peak in its bridge. Urgent vows to “put my heart inside your palms / My home in your arms” lead into a masterful solo from Roberts and a final chorus rife with trumpets. Such a strong debut seems destined to cast the Last Dinner Party as one-hit wonders, but they make clear they’re not just fucking around.

Candid conviction runs deep through Prelude to Ecstasy, as vocalist Abigail Morris guides us through the phantasmagoria of the feminine mind, with all its pains and pleasures on display. Following the lush orchestral prelude to Prelude, the masochistic “Burn Alive” sprawls in the gothic romanticism of the ‘80s as Morris accepts martyrdom, yet seeks no pity. Glamorously damned “at the stake / Petrol my perfume,” the song itself burns high as a Beltane bonfire, the darkness of a booming drumbeat and spacey riff illuminated by sparkly harpsichord in its massive chorus. Power dynamics are what’s set aflame, as Morris asserts dominance by choosing submission, and flips the Christian story of Eve’s creation to give women superiority (“I break off my rib to make another you”).

Maybe those memes about the feminine urge to bite are right, as “The Feminine Urge” bares venomous fangs at generations of oppression. Womanhood is compared to the Promethean damnation of being “a dark red liver stretched out on the rocks,” relentless misogyny clearly the eagle pecking on it. The urge in question is “to nurture the wounds that my mother held,” and as Morris dreads “lying that people are kind” to younger women, keyboardist Aurora Nishevci’s icy chords echo the horror of the unbreakable curse. Turning on a dime from fierce to fragile, its tumult embodies the exhausting expectation of remaining ladylike despite the horrors; its flippant fuck-you, a means of making misery a little easier to bear.

Prelude to Ecstasy makes a case for lacing femininity with masculine energy, whether to challenge double standards, or simply to survive. The eccentric “Caesar on a TV Screen” illustrates the band’s theatrics, beginning as a waltzy wish for masculine power, then pivots in ecstatic revelation that all it takes is a suit to become the one “the world will answer to.” Its swinging chorus glorifies machismo more than it mocks it, Morris enraptured that “anyone and everyone will like me.” Hubristic, perhaps, but not unrealistic. Like a pastoral redux of Gina X Performance’s “Be a Boy,” “Beautiful Boy” smoulders with frustration at the ways male beauty grants protection where female beauty attracts danger. As Roberts’s medieval flute builds to orchestral frenzy, seething envy rises to indignation, then ends in resignation atop twinkling piano; it’s pure catharsis, and a testament to the band’s classical training. 

Nishevci’s skilled orchestration is a highlight of Prelude to Ecstasy, framing emotions into different acts. Sung in Albanian, “Gjuha” feels like a turning point as mandolin, pipe organ and a full band choir paint a haunting backdrop for Nishevci’s shame over not knowing her mother tongue. In a nod to mournful Christian hymns that end with hope, its minor key resolves on a major chord that seamlessly — and winkingly — leads straight into “Sinner,” where guitarist Lizzie Mayland also yearns to connect past with present. Feeling accepted in the city but held back from self-acceptance by nostalgia for a strait-laced hometown is mirrored by sharp turns from nervy piano to skyrocketing riffs. Sin wins in a battlecry to “turn and face me… turn to the altar of lust!” — why struggle between faith and desire when they can be one?

Rather than rejecting Christianity, lusty “My Lady of Mercy” recontextualizes it as less restrictive, where Sunday mornings are spent in Sapphic devotion, lounging in bed “under your crucifix, under your long black hair.” Inspired by Bernini’s sculpture Ecstasy of Saint Teresa — which depicts the saint enthralled by an angel ready to pierce her with an arrow — religious ecstasy becomes erotic atop handclaps and Georgia Davies’s bouncy bass, Morris yearning to “let me be your arrow, baby make me bow!” This playful fantasy feels as intense as an exorcism in its chorus rife with heavy riffs, Morris’s angelic choir girl croons escalating to a possessed howl.

And with the sombre grandeur of fellow Christian symbolists Nick Cave and Lana Del Rey, the sprawling “Mirror” closes Prelude to Ecstasy with the sultry drama of a doomed femme fatale. “I’m just a mirror / I don’t exist without your gaze,” Morris sings. Yet the Last Dinner Party command attention on an album that shines with each member’s skill, and is strengthened by their synergy. If the Last Dinner Party’s debut is but a Prelude to Ecstasy, its masterful focus is a clear promise they’ll be back to enrapture us again.


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