While he and his contemporaries make up the flourishing UK dance scene, Toddla T’s latest album reminds me of another of his countrymen: Mark Ronson. Ronson’s 2003 debut Here Comes the Fuzz was a genre-hopping showcase of his production skills, with a star-studded guest list of rappers and R&B singers, that failed to coalesce despite a few standout tracks. Replace Ronson’s taste in hip-hop with Toddla’s dancehall prowess, and Watch Me Dance feels like the spiritual successor to Here Comes the Fuzz, especially since its liner notes read like a Who’s Who of UK vocal talent.
Watch Me Dance owes less to Jamaica than Toddla’s 2009 album Skanky Skanky, but Caribbean riddims still make up about half of the disc. Wobbly bashment anthems like “Badman Flu” and “Cruise Control” benefit from plenty of hyped-up breaks and divebombing bass. And when Toddla pulls his foot off the gas, you get the political dancehall of “Streets So Warm” and reggae both summery (“Lovely Girl”) and soulful (“Fly”). On these songs, he’s right in his wheelhouse.
However, when he moves outside of his comfort zone, the results aren’t as even. The title track is warmed-over disco-funk, and “Body Good” sounds like a Kingston-kissed Neptunes production. Sometimes, colliding influences distract from the song. “Cherry Picking” is essentially 90s dance-pop (which isn’t a bad thing) but it’s littered with bleeps and sirens that feel out of place. Elsewhere, such genre mash-ups feel more organic: “Do It Your Way,” featuring Terri Walker, saunters like classic soul before a woofer-ratting bass break.
“Take It Back,” Toddla’s tribute to pirate radio and ol’ school ‘ardcore, is the album’s highest point by a kilometer or two. With ravey piano loops, an infectious hook by Shola Ama and a grimey verse from J2K, it’s very nostalgic but also very in vogue. At just over three minutes, it’s a bit short, and listeners will find themselves taking it back to the beginning ad nauseam.
Here Comes the Fuzz was a commercial flop and suffered from mediocre reviews – neither of which prevented Ronson from dominating the aughts with his brand of 60s soul throwbacks. Toddla T is already further along than his predecessor, what with his gigs at BBC Radio 1 and Fabric, so this uneven album shouldn’t hinder his career. As Ronson did before him, Toddla T uses Watch Me Dance to prove himself as a versatile producer who makes the most of a collaboration, no matter the genre.