The Last Dinner Party is a vocal maximalist’s dream

The almost ten-month span between The Last Dinner Party’s signing with a major label (before the release of any recorded material) and the release of Prelude to Ecstasy saw the band suffering industry plant allegations and catalyzing a counter-discussion about sexism in music journalism.

A barrage of critical narratives about this album, both scathing and doting, found purchase long before the album was released.

So, is the album really generation-defining? Scrap-heap trash? Somewhere in between?

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The Last Dinner Party’s Prelude to Ecstasy is an art-pop statement of exactly what’s pictured on the cover – an ambitious and harmlessly picturesque look at the aesthetic-feminine delivered from a fainting couch in a regency-era lounge room, and that’s enough.

Self-described maximalists, the instinct to impress is written into every facet of the album, from the lyrical verbosity to the breadth of the instrumental arrangements.

Overall, when it works, it works, and there are moments where exuberance and ambition give birth to achievement.

The best is the transition from the soaring chamber harmonies that close “Gjuha”, an Albanian-language expression of regret over not knowing one’s culture, and the energetic staccato piano chords that begin the album’s strongest pop song, “Sinner”.

But not every moment of stylistic excess strikes gold. “Sinner” stands out not only because it crossbreeds ABBA-pop and swaggering post-punk, but also because its blue-note-heavy lead guitar lines played over pseudo-gospel choirs wink at messiness beyond the frame on the album’s cover.

Per the regency stylings that adorn both Prelude’s baroque album cover and the band themselves, the album unapologetically screams finishing school.

The vocals are delivered with the refined affectation of a graduated Eliza Doolittle.

The album isn’t apolitical, the lyrics bursting at the seams with repudiations of gender roles and heteronormativity. Unfortunately, it all comes across a little bit TikTok-polished.

But that is, admittedly, kind of the point. It’s been argued that this album can’t be judged effectively with the criteria of a system that’s consistently rejected it.

It has to be understood as part of an Ethel Cain or Kate Bush canon, where authenticity is gleaned as much from the willful depth of a lyrical swoon as from the ferocity of any poseur alt-rock snarl favored by the Pitchfork mafia one that’s spent 20 years declaring Prelude’s comparables lazy, tasteless, or inauthentic.

Ultimately, for a lot of the band’s educated theatre-kid-type audience, its flavor is what makes the album special. Sure, this album plays to its base, but given that a noisy segment of the music-consuming populace branded the band undesirables before they’d even released a song, who wouldn’t be happy to just make something go.

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