The Last Dinner Party
Photo: Cal McIntyre / Island Records

The Last Dinner Party Hypnotize Listeners with ‘Prelude to Ecstasy’

The Last Dinner Party committed an act of mass hypnosis, swiftly securing the top spot on many lists of 2024 indie darlings. Let’s figure out how they did it.

Prelude to Ecstasy
The Last Dinner Party
2 February 2024

We can easily call the British quintet the Last Dinner Party the most promising act of the post-pandemic era. Jumping into London’s live scene and festival lineups after we all survived COVID-19, they rode the wave of the audience’s thirst for live shows and committed an act of mass hypnosis, swiftly securing the top spot on many lists of 2024 indie darlings.

Just like it always perfectly works with hard-working live show ponies like the Goa Express or Scowl, the Last Dinner Party’s fans, tens of thousands of followers, and music critics were already eager for their full-length, even though they released their first single, “Nothing Matters”, only at the beginning of 2023. Additionally, add the Brits Rising Star and the BBC Sound of 2024 awards to their accolades. As a result, almost no one was disappointed, except a vanishingly small number of doubters who labeled them as an “industry plant” act, “nepo babies”, and a project “clearly made by a label”. I must say here that every allegation in the public domain should be backed by facts. Without that, these are just idle rumors. The Last Dinner Party have a clear answer to that: “None of us have famous or industry parents either, shock horror!”

Besides, it’s easy to accuse really boring and flat musicians. That’s something you can’t say about this five-piece gang of extremely jovial artists. Everything suggests that they knew how to sell a pen from the start of their career. If you watch their old live performances, before they signed with Island, you’ll see the same theatrical artistry with a perfectly developed baroque image, sometimes even reminiscent of ABBA (“Nothing Matters”). With their sonic versatility and tuneful, say, disco-core stomp — I think I’ve just invented a new genre label — they have landed somewhere between Walt Disco, Roxy Music, and Witch Fever, absorbing a lot of tunes from the bouncing 1970s to the hardcore-ish hooks of the Post-Brexit New Wave in their music.

Nevertheless, with the epic La La Land-meets-Disney and Gershwin intro “Prelude to Ecstasy” and an Albanian-language mantra “Gjuha”, it’s notable that they still don’t know whether they want to be in the same row with sophisticated experimenters like Joanna Newsom, Amanda Palmer, and Regina Spektor, or to thrive as a new indie breakthrough akin to Wet Leg and HotWax. Sometimes their fuzzy guitar lines sound a little like Smoke Fairies (“My Lady of Mercy”), sometimes it’s easy to find some Caroline Polachek-esque coos among their ballads like panpipe-laden “Beautiful Boy”, sometimes it’s just sleazy post-punk (“Caesar on a TV Screen”). Sometimes, we hear really magnetic pop twists in the vein of Hinds here. Yet, there are moments when they teeter dangerously close to Måneskin’s glam rocky sleaziness.

“I am at the stake / Petrol, my perfume,” sings Abigail Morris in “Burn Alive”. Or also there: “I’d break off my rib / To make another you.” These lines are hard to call exquisite versification. Even if sometimes it works, like in “Portrait of a Dead Girl” with its bloody lyricism: “And I wish you had given me the courtesy / Of ripping out my throat”, mostly the lyrics are clumsy and too lofty. Their craving for vivid images plays a cruel joke on them. Verses aestheticizing the Soviet Union in “Caesar on a TV Screen” look pretty strange against the backdrop of the news we have seen from Ukraine for almost two years now. Moreover, lines like “When I was a child / I never felt like a child / I felt like an emperor”, which might have been funny and playful in the times of Bonaparte’s success (I mean the band), today sound not so fun, especially for Eastern Europe.

It’s obvious that many of the Last Dinner Party’s influences spin around familiar names of riot grrrl heroes and their successors, from Bikini Kill to Muna and Florence Welch to Ex Hex and Wild Flag. And they, as some guys tell from another corner of the ring, “want it all”. By the end of the record, it’s absolutely clear that they aspire to sound like every independent and non-conforming band from everywhere, all at once. A very ambitious approach for rising stars, isn’t it? Fortunately, at the helm of producing duties was James Ford, who has worked with the cream of the music industry, including Haim, Jessie Ware, and Arctic Monkeys. He connected the unconnectable into a solid sonic narrative with a rich, melodramatic atmosphere. We call it baroque pop.

Well, this time, it worked almost perfectly, making the anticipation for their sophomore album all the more interesting to see if it will be not just a prelude to ecstasy but the real euphoria. It’s easy to fall under the Last Dinner Party’s spell, even considering the aforementioned concerns. They managed to mask their eclectic influences and occasionally clichéd ideas behind a loud, bold, excessive sound, spectacular visuals, and provocative lyrics about “candle wax melting in my veins”. Oh wait, aren’t these the signs of a successful debut?

RATING 7 / 10