THE LAST DINNER PARTY
Prelude To Ecstasy (Universal)
THERE ARE SEVERAL REASONS why The Last Dinner Party are/will get up people’s noses, and that isn’t even taking into account the fevered predictions of success that preceded this debut album and practically demand a bit of poppy-lopping.
There is a strain of theatricality in these songs that will strike some as florid, maybe even pompous, with the accompanying – if always tedious – claim of inauthenticity then directed at them. As if only the taciturn or earnest is an authentic method of behaviour. As if performance of any sort isn’t exactly that, a performance.
The fluttering at the outer reaches of the vocals, the rising-to-dramatic arrangements, the sense that emotions may at any moment spill past sensible barriers, or just the way you can almost picture some songs being played in white makeup and black clothes for street theatre, fit the bill. The guitar solos go big, the string section isn’t hiding and the song titles aren’t playing shy either with Portrait Of A Dead Girl, Caesar On A TV Screen, My Lady Of Mercy, and the title track making mock of any notion of bushel/light.
Likewise, the questioning of their creation/existence since forming barely 5 minutes ago (in 2021), with the first single spotted less than 12 months ago, and the not insignificant fact that the band consists of Abigail Morris on vocals, Lizzie Mayland on guitar and flute, Emily Roberts on lead guitar, Georgia Davies on bass and Aurora Nishevci on various keyboards.
That is, all women. Alarm bells for some here, and none of them are even dating a football player in an election year to really rile the “sceptical”. The suggestion being that when your first album arrives sounding like a second or third, your image is detailed and clearly thought through, and you’re – check it, girls – you must have been packaged by a backroom of calculating men.
This misses two points you might already be thinking. One: maybe they just got their shit together before launching (what else could they do but rehearse and plan during lockdowns of 2021 and 2022?) and know what they want. And two: even if they have been pulled together by some or other Svengali it doesn’t mean it isn’t good pop done well with an image. You know like pop music has been doing since Frank Sinatra hung a long suit on a skinny body and smiled at the bobbysoxers.
So, to those songs.
Nothing Matters begins like an Abba ballad with Frida setting the scene in talk-sing mode, then the team arrives with extra vocals and band, including a celebratory guitar solo. Sweden lives! That said, Ulvaeus and Andersson would probably not have had a line like “And you can hold me like he held her/And I will fuck you like nothing matters”. Well, not outright, though the intention might have been in the subtext.
The Feminine Urge has the meter and twang of a ‘60s teen drama with the warble of an ‘80s musical, the escalation of ‘90s shoegazers and the payoff of 2010s flamboyant pop, complete with the flung-back-in-your-face question “Do you feel like a man when I can’t talk back?”. When On Your Side slides in straight after you are not at all surprised to find it almost on its knees, reaching out to the front rows like Hazel O’Connor crossed with Jim Kerr.
If some of this talk of theatrical pop might have you thinking Florence And The Machine, TLDP are not as prone to the boom or the big sweep. A more appropriate comparison would be with Sparks, in the way songs can switch between styles without batting an eyelash, and each wear the clothing as if born to it. Watch the way Sinner vamps on piano, wangs a guitar, takes a quasi-operatic moment and builds it to an unabashed climax, only to close like a Broadway number. Or how Caesar On A TV Screen switches back and forth between indie pop and rock opera as if they’re the same coin, just flipped, and Mirror glides in on moody trembling and suspicious rhythm before the guitar teases an almost Zeppelin-esque run away. Cheeky beggars.
Sure, the opening track, Prelude To Ecstasy, is a 96 second instrumental overture where you expect credits to roll down over a wide pan across forbidding lands that suddenly rise to a mountain peak just as harp and brass themselves peak. Portents are … not small. But the heavy tread of Burn Alive, midnight garden guitars and rumbling drums behind a voice untethered, holds itself in just enough.
Enough for those unsure they have the energy for this to get the message: it’s ok, you can breath out occasionally. But yes, hold on during the next ten songs.
THE LAST DINNER PARTY'S DEBUT ALBUM - PRELUDE TO ECSTASY - OUT NOW VIA UNIVERSAL AND IS WAXX LYRICAL'S FEBRUARY 2024 RECORD OF THE MONTH.