top of page

Review: If the Female Gaze was an album, it would be The Last Dinner Party’s 'Prelude to Ecstasy'

By Hannah Kindred

British indie-rock group The Last Dinner Party has taken the alt-music scene by storm, being recognised as the next upcoming band, and winning the BRITs Rising Star award. Their debut album, Prelude to Ecstasy, was released in February and cordially invites you to enjoy every single bite of their menu.

I first became aware of The Last Dinner Party when I watched them open for Hozier at the OVO Wembley arena last December (admittedly, a bit late to the party). Unfortunately, I did not get to see their whole set, but I was immediately enamoured by their ethereal stage presence. Performing songs that were destined to be part of Prelude to Ecstasy, I knew I was going to be a keen admirer of their discography. Now that the full album has been released, I believe the group has illustrated a feast of the female experience through their music.

Fitting with the title of the album, the first song ‘Prelude to Ecstasy’ provides a gourmet banquet of an orchestral score, introducing the listener to the story of the album. The beginning melody of the woodwind and strings echoes the iconic chorus of ‘Nothing Matters’. From here, a dramatic bell chime takes us into a pious setting, while the bass instruments of the orchestra play a melody that resembles monk Gregorian chants, echoed by the choir boy-like flutes and oboes, foreboding the religious themes that underscore the album. As the orchestra continues the prelude, the strings play several scalic passages that resemble the taste of traditional Albanian music we hear later in ‘Gjuha’. The strings then lead the orchestra to crescendo into the high climax of the piece, for the brass to play a fanfare that foreshadows the upcoming riffs about to be played by the electric guitars in ‘Burn Alive’.

‘Burn Alive’ tells the tale well known by women of the impossibility of being the perfect woman. Alongside an 80s synth riff, the singer (Abigail Morris) admits “I am not the girl I set out to be”, a revelation many women could relate to since we are given such a rigid image of what femininity and womanhood should look like from a young age. As punishment, she is to be burned alive, a dramatic fate that sits too close to comfort in our history books. She has no choice but to make her “grief a commodity” to her gawking audience, eating up the torture porn, and highlighting how women’s suffering is often romanticised. Until her last moment, she is forced to sacrifice everything to men:

“I’d break off my rib / To make another you.”

Prelude to Ecstasy explores the theme of the female experience further with ‘The Feminine Urge’, a reference to the viral TikTok trend of women expressing their ‘unfeminine’ impulses. The chorus paints a grotesque image of the woman being “a dark red liver” that has spent its time absorbing all the “poison” to “turn it to love”. She has distorted her image of herself to be nothing other than the organ that fixes the self-deprecating mistakes humans around us make. The song suggests this is a vicious cycle, as mothers spend their lives healing others until burnout, and then daughters take on the role to “nurture the wound” they hold. In the post-chorus, Morris sings “Oh ballerina, bend under the weight of it all”. A young girl’s image of a perfect woman, strong, yet able to pull off the struggle gracefully. The song makes me question: why we do have the ’urge’ to fix everyone around us before we feel the need to look after ourselves? At what point does the nurturing of others begin to poison us?

The Last Dinner Party are also not afraid to unpack the complexities of masculinity. In the third song, ‘Caesar on a TV Screen’, we are given an optimistic image of a man’s power:

“When I put on that suit... I can talk all the time, / ‘Cause my shoulders are wide."

These lyrics suggest that masculinity is a performance, something that can be switched on, and is explored in the music video as the band members play the male roles in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. While the music video shows the band acting out the murder of Julius Caesar, the lyrics of the song do not mention Caesar’s ending. As the singer names themself to be Caesar, “Champion of my fate”, the listener feels a sense of dramatic irony that their life in power is not going to end well. The singer believes once they gain this power, “Everyone will like me then”. To be the perfect man, you are to be strong, rich and powerful; impossible for many to reach, without taking advantage of others. However, if a man steps on others to achieve this, then all they will find amongst the riches is how lonely and isolated they have become.

Photo: The Last Dinner Party by Chuff Media

The album explores another side of the male experience with the song ‘Beautiful Boy’. The first line, “the best a boy can ever be / is pretty” initially contradicts the message in previous songs about the man’s role focusing on gaining power. However, the song explores how women are told that they will succeed if they are attractive, yet this often does not bring them power. The song is based on Morris’ male friend who received help from a stranger when abroad after losing his phone. While a man can take the initiative to launch “ships on which / he sails to safety”, a woman in the same scenario is more likely to experience danger, held “captive” by the threatening environment. Morris repeats “I wish I could be a beautiful boy”, yearning to be free from the burdens of womanhood but not have to lose her femininity; something that sounds too good to be true.

Prelude to Ecstasy includes themes of breaking tradition, which is introduced with the song ‘Gjuha’, meaning ‘Language’ or ‘Tongue’ in Albanian. The song is performed in the style of traditional Albanian music, with folk-like instrumentation and rich vocal harmonies. Often performed by men, it seems like tradition is already being expanded upon by having women perform this style of music, reaching new heights with soprano vocal ranges and exposing this folk music to a new audience. The lyrics are in Albanian and sung by Aurora Nishevci, exploring her relationship with the language:

"Sdi me ta përkthy (I don’t know how to translate it)

Mund të marr pak kohë (It could take some time)

E hupa gjuhën (I lost my language)

Kurrë se mësova (I never learnt it)

Moti pa fjalorë. (I’ve lived a long time without a vocabulary.)"

The singer captures their disconnect with the native tongue they never learned, as many first- and second-generation immigrants could relate to since parents could have been encouraged to communicate with them in English. As someone who was not brought up speaking their native language, there is a strange sense of loss for something that was never quite yours; even if you take language lessons, being able to connect with natives’ colloquialisms feels very out of reach. The language Aurora uses in the song is both childlike in its simplicity, yet cut-throat in its grief.

The ending instrumentation of ‘Gjuha’ flows seamlessly into the staccato piano chords of ‘Sinner’. Questioning the dogmatic constraints of a religious upbringing, Abigail Morris sings of the conflict a queer person can feel exploring their sexuality: “I wish I knew you / Back when we were both small... When touch was innocent“. Young female friendships and the physical touch that comes from their hug or reassuring handholds are often formative moments of human connection as we grow up. But as Morris sings “I wish I knew you / Before it felt like a sin”, an innocent touch between two women has become demonised and sexualised. As a queer person, this feeling of being sinful is an internal contradiction: a connection that once was seen as pure is now immoral, yet this relationship leaves you feeling warm and safe. The song continues with religious references as a reminder of the dogmatic pressure, yet the contrast of sound between the vigorous guitar solos against the choral harmonies reminds you of this contradiction. The lyrics discuss a need to “pray” and to be “cleansed”, yet there is still a joyful mood to the song as if all the feelings of religious guilt are worth the bliss of queer love.

Photo: 'My Lady of Mercy' by Cal McIntyre / ChuffMedia

The penultimate song, ‘Nothing Matters’, The Last Dinner Party’s most popular song, is a true anthem of messy situationships. The first verse starts with the lyrics “I have my sentence now”, alluding back to the violent fate in ‘Burn Alive’. The fact it is followed by “at last I know just how you felt” suggests both people in this relationship have been cruel to each other and each endured the consequences of this. The graphic lyrics continue with “I dig my fingers in expecting more than just the skin” illuminating how the singer seeks more than a physical relationship with the other person but cannot break through. The song also contains a lot of motor vehicle imagery, painting the relationship to be exhilarating and spontaneous: “we’re a lot alike, in favour, like a motorbike / A sailor and a nightingale dancing in convertibles”. Here, the melody imitates the song of a nightingale, with some large intervals, as if the singer cannot help but jump to conclusions about the relationship.

The relationship displayed in ‘Nothing Matters’ is full of contradictions and mixed feelings, as the chorus repeats “you can hold me like he held her / And I will fuck you like nothing matters”. These lines juxtapose each other: the singer wants to give the impression that “nothing matters” and their sexual relationship is casual, but they cannot help but dwell upon the potential tenderness their partner is giving to another woman. Their desire for a deeper connection is shown in the bridge: “I put my heart inside your palms”. They have invested all their emotions into the relationship, finding a “home in your arms” as if they have Stockholm syndrome. As they sing “I hope they never understand us”, I cannot help but think this has become emotionally abusive, where they are blind to any red flags their emotionally and romantically unavailable partner is showing.

Prelude to Ecstasy captures the raw emotional moments many women experience: facing oppression and lack of freedom, comparing these experiences to their male counterparts, queering tradition to find their place in the world, and unravelling complex relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed this album, and not just because of the music. It has been empowering to see an all-women band be recognised for their undeniable talent and unique style, despite the band’s recent controversies (which, in my opinion, they cleared up well), when other recent woman-fronting bands have faced substantial criticism. Perhaps some of the lyrics and the meaning of the songs in the album are not the most joyful, but the fact that we get to hear this story being told through a female gaze brings me so much joy about the upcoming female representation in the music scene. I cannot wait to see what they will offer when are next cordially invited to The Last Dinner Party.


About the Writer

Hannah Kindred (she/her) is a Welsh writer based in London. She writes poetry, art and music reviews, and is currently working on a novel. She can be found writing her stories in a local cafe, in exploring art galleries, or finding some new wild space in her city.

Related Posts

See All


bottom of page