Most musicians who came of age during the pandemic are hushed and introspective, but The Last Dinner Party came out calling for “an end of the world orgy” – and Prelude to Ecstasy gleefully delivers.
Theatrically frocked in slashed velvet and lace – like the cast of a Merchant Ivory film after a night in a graveyard – the London quintet burst onto the scene last year with the giddily nihilistic “Nothing Matters”. It was a song that married the camp-crisp pronunciation and melodic smarts of ABBA to the dirty bacchanalia of indie rock, all topped off with a bodice ripper of a guitar solo courtesy of Emily Roberts. It’s a song that makes being young sound fun again.
Frontwoman Abigail Morris met Georgia Davies (bass) and Lizzie Maryland (vocals, guitar) shortly after starting university in 2020, and soon drafted classically trained Roberts and Aurora Nishevci (keyboards). In vintage style, they wrote a late-night manifesto they claim is stained with blood and wine about becoming the kind of band you’d hear at a “hedonistic banquet”. They dreamed of a sound with all the elegantly distressed layers and lavish melodrama of their costumes – then set about making it with the feverish determination of frustrated artists making up for lost Covid time. Early on, TLDP honed songs at sparsely attended gigs they treated like the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury – and the buzz grew quickly, seeing them named as the BBC’s predicted Sound of 2024.
Prelude to Ecstacy sets the mood with a sumptuous orchestral intro that slightly recalls Danny Elfman’s score to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. You can picture the bandmates standing on a rooftop, strings swirling around them like crinolines, as they survey their 21st-century Gotham City. Doom-decked brass and bells toll in the gothic romance. They announce their confidence with the controlled rumble of the timpani.
Then we’re off into the hooky bombast of “Burn Alive”, whose riff plays with the one on “Wish You Were Here”, Pink Floyd’s 1975 hymn to doomed, hedonistic youth. TLDP have no permanent drummer, which is a bit odd, but guest percussionist Rebekah Rayner batters up a storm as Morris yowls out lines of blood-sucking, stake-burning lust: “There is candle wax melting in my veins/ So I keep myself standing in your flames.”
There’s a very cool swagger to the gender fluidity of the lyrics throughout. Driven by the cocky strut of Davies’ bass, “Caesar on a TV Screen” sees Morris singing of life as a man: “When I put on that suit, I don’t have to stay mute/ I can talk all the time ‘cause my shoulders are wide.” She takes up all the vocal space, pouts in French, shouts out to Russia, yelps low and high. Later the dreamy “Beautiful Boy” – stitched together with the soft, silvery breath of Roberts’ flute – sees her yearning to be a young man.
Elsewhere, “The Feminine Urge” finds Morris chafing at the bonds of passive femininity. She conjures a little classic mythology to picture herself as “a dark red liver stretched out on a rock”, relentlessly regenerating the poison she’s given. “Lady of Mercy” embraces the sexy-religious iconography of the classic goth playbook: “Picture me in bed under your crucifix/ My lady of Mercy/ Pierce me straight through the heart!” I’m usually irked by any quirkily skirted act being compared to Kate Bush, but there’s no denying this band’s debt to her abandoned ambition.
“Sinner” sees the group go full glam rock ABBA: punchy-perky synth notes and multi-tracked back-to-back vocals graffitied over by the angry scrawl of Robert’s guitar. With its rolling bass, catchy tune, bouncy bass and sing-along summons to “turn to the altar of lust!”, it’s surely the song to play if you’re trying to convert your friends.
The band give hints of their range on the mandolin-freckled “Gjuha” and the piano-led “Portrait of a Dead Girl” – which trips, Queen-esque, through a medley of melodies building to swaying crescendos “over and over again”. They make you wait for the reckless shag of “Nothing Matters” before fading out to the soporific bass of “Mirror”. It’s a decadent blast to hear.