If you’re going to enlist Chris McClure, cover star of ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’, to pose in a slightly lame spoof/tribute to the Arctic Monkeys’ sleeve for the front of your own debut album, you’d better have a good reason.
Turns out that Toddla T has the Arctics’ full approval, because the pummelling drums on opening track ‘Boom DJ From The Steel City’ are unmistakably those of one Matt Helders. The track itself is a demented, ducking-and-diving bassline garage roller. Like much of ‘Skanky Skanky’, it shouldn’t work, but does.
Toddla T is a Kingston raggamuffin trapped in the body of a skinny white Yorkshireman called Tom Bell. His high-speed collision of various bass-heavy styles – dancehall, rave, bashment, UK garage, R&B and fidget house – is the kind of thing that only Basement Jaxx would usually have the cojones to pull off.
Crucially, ‘Skanky Skanky’ manages to capture the ebullient carnival vibe of those early Jaxx singles or the unhinged soundclash of jump-up drum’n’bass. The between-song skits about rice and peas needlessly overstate Toddla’s case: he really does grasp what makes the best dancehall music so entertaining, while putting it into a fresh context.
‘Goin Off’ is like a dubstep Daft Punk. ‘Safe’, featuring Tinchy Stryder, suggests where grime could have gone if it hadn’t suddenly lost heart. Every song is accidentally original. The flipside is that when the disparate elements don’t gel, it can be as annoying as a 4am fire drill.
At least Toddla’s astute enough to provide a bit of light and shade. ‘Rebel’ features Joe Hot Chip jousting with rasta poet Benjamin Zephaniah – it’s one of the weirdest team-ups of the year, but also oddly moving. Roots Manuva, returning the favour for production work on ‘Slime & Reason’, lends weight and wisdom to proceedings. Toddla finally grabs the mic himself on ‘Better’, and with a bit of work on his storytelling, he could be the northern Jamie T.
This won’t define a generation like the Arctics’ debut album, but it does look good on the dancefloor.