Unapologetically flaunting an MO of gleeful maximalism at every turn, The Last Dinner Party’s hotly-anticipated debut album was never going to be a meek thing, but it’s hard to recall an opening gambit that greedily embraces every possible ounce of opportunity quite like ‘Prelude To Ecstasy’. If the primary spoils of major label backing are that the barriers to things like lavish string sections and world class producers (in their case, Arctic Monkeys’ go-to guy James Ford) are removed, then the London quintet have used their deal with Island to facilitate an album that dreams not just big but huge. It begins with a literal orchestral overture - 96 seconds of world-building that removes you from boring old reality and plants you into their version of Fantasia. Then, 11 tracks of similarly sky-high, grandiose ambition, that tie together lofty literary sentiment, cinematic sweeping theatricality and killer melodic indie hooks with an equal affinity for each.
It’s this unlikely balance that is The Last Dinner Party’s greatest trick. A band composed of both classical and alternative musicians, they knit the two sensibilities together in ways that sound like little else. Recent single ‘Caesar on a TV Screen’ might be the only modern pop song to reference Leningrad and the Red Scare, but it’s also all sorts of fun, switching up time signatures and styles from bombastic chest-puffing to a cheeky ‘60s shuffle. Early highlight ‘Burn Alive’ begins with tense, ‘80s gothic drama before exploding into a rousingly defiant chorus; ‘Beautiful Boy’ makes use of woodwind and an Oscar Wilde-like sense of romanticism; ‘Gjuha’ sees keyboard player Aurora Nishveci singing in Albanian, while it’s frontwoman Abigail Morris’ natural sense of vocal melodrama that’s likely earned them a fair whack of Kate Bush comparisons.
Dangling the carrot right through to the record’s closing moments, they leave breakout debut ‘Nothing Matters’ until the penultimate track. But it’s a holy trinity of brilliance in that single, the roaring rock opera of ‘My Lady of Mercy’, and ‘Portrait of a Dead Girl’ that sees out ‘Prelude…’s final third in truly ecstatic fashion. The latter track in particular serves up crescendo after crescendo; nestled between the band’s two finest singles, it’s even better than either of them.
If Wet Leg’s globe-conquering debut showed that it was still possible for an indie band to reach the dizzying heights of yore, then the success of The Last Dinner Party feels like one step further; proof in an age of algorithms that a completely singular band can beat them all and come out on top without diminishing a shred of their vision. If their debut is only the ‘Prelude To Ecstasy’, then it’s truly thrilling to imagine what they could dream up when they reach the real meat of their career.