★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
As if from nowhere, Camden veterans The Last Dinner Party have been on everybody’s lips for the best part of a year. After signing a career-altering record deal with Island Records, the trajectory of this group is unlike anything seen in music since Sheffield’s own Arctic Monkeys. The way they articulate their stage presence, sound and image is inspiring, and has paved the way for the emergence of ‘Baroque-Rock’, a charming yet strikingly grandiose revamp of contemporary Indie Rock. With James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Gorillaz, Depeche Mode) assisting with the production of this album, the band had the utmost potential to revolutionise modern music. I think, to a large extent, that potential has been reached.
The five-piece has had a monumental build-up to this album. Their debut single ‘Nothing Matters’ was an instant smash hit, characterised by eery synth chords, a catchy and melodramatic chorus hook, and endearing Guitar riffs courtesy of lead guitarist Emily Roberts. It’s a combination of forced bitter acceptance and fatalistic rejection that makes this track deceptively relatable and lingers in listeners’ minds. The song is swiftly rising in popularity on social media, making a large appearance on TikTok and playing on every leading Radio Station you can think of.
The positive reception led the band to release 4 more singles before the debut album became ours to enjoy. My personal favourite of these is ‘My Lady of Mercy’, a song that progresses in a way that throws all listeners off balance. Initially presenting the song as a percussive, chordal pop track, with lyrics that could reminisce of the 80s pop-rock teen ballads that dominated the decade, the chorus throws this all away and slams us with uninhibited, raucous polyrhythmic instrumentation and the staggeringly operatic vocals of singer and frontwoman Abigail Morris. It is loud, it is chaotic, and it is marvellous. The cynically seductive lyrics depict lust and envy eventually causing disarray in us all: “Oh, rest your feet on me / My lady of mercy / Strike me, pierce me straight through the heart”. The atmospheric outro represents how this lust eventually takes over logic, presenting a profound insight into human nature.
The extensive success of the singles only increased the anticipation for Prelude to Ecstasy, and for good reason. The scene is instantly set by an orchestral opening track of the same name before we are thrust into the monophonic unease of ‘Burn Alive’. This track utilises synthesisers with strings to immerse us in the world with stark enthusiasm before we enter the Roman-inspired ballad of ‘Ceaser on a TV Screen’, an unapologetically palpable account of gender roles and discovery: “I’ll be Caesar on a TV screen, champion of my fate /
No one can tell me to stop, I’ll have everything I want / anyone, and everyone will like me then”.
This is continued, yet to the opposing effect, in ‘The Feminine Urge’, where I feel Abigail shines the brightest in the album (which is saying something; her consistency in vocals is rare to find in a debut). A noticeable shift from a commanding forte in the previous track to a softer tone is a clever take on the stereotypical insinuation of femininity and allows her octave range to radiate excellence over Latin-inspired instrumentation.
This continues throughout the tear-jerkers ‘On Your Side’ and ‘Beautiful Boy’, painfully familiar insights into obsession and remorse, inspiring the album’s transition into its grand finale ‘Mirror’, culminating the vision of the band into a 5-minute ballad of ethereal majesty. Whilst this track is a perfect ending to an incredible album, my one critique is that sometimes they fall victim to their own majesty, lasting out some songs that don’t necessarily need to be extended, leading to a sense of anxious anticipation for something different. Furthermore, their structural and rhythmic fluidity could pose the project as less accessible to larger audiences. However, their self-determination and melodic confidence redeem this album’s few flaws. The consistency and artistic prowess of the group, headed by Abigail’s tenacious vocals, makes Prelude to Ecstasy an album not to be missed and poses The Last Dinner Party as serious ones to watch in the future of contemporary music.