Parralox – Sharper Than a Knife (Pete Hammond Remix)
Now then, here’s a record that got a lot of middle aged men with beards very excited in 2012, principally because it enabled them to party like it was 1988. Granted, a lot of us never really stopped, but at least this was something (sort of) new. I have no idea who decided to rope in PWL legend Pete Hammond to give Sharper Than a Knife by Parralox an authentic mixmaster makeover, but whoever it was has my undying gratitude.
This was a music style that I felt comfortably sure would never ever return – but just like John Hammond in Jurassic Park, Pete Hammond obviously had that crucial pop DNA preserved in amber, ready to be reactivated when the time was right. I don’t know about you, but I’d quite happily visit a PWL theme park – they could call it Water(man) World – especially if the exhibits broke free and you found yourself being chased around by an angry gene-spliced Sinitta.
Parralox are an Australian synthesiser outfit with a revolving line up even the Sugababes might roll their eyes at – but at their core is John von Ahlen, who clearly knows a thing or two about keyboards and favours an icy approach to pop. They arrived in 2008 with debut single I Fell in Love With a Drum Machine, and it set out their stall very effectively – fairly minimal electronica rooted, but not stuck in, the early 1980s. Not entirely dissimilar to what Client have been doing since 2002, the main point of difference is that all of Parralox’s vocalists have tended to be really really good, by which I mean always pitch perfect and giving it some emotion. Oddly, this might actually be their biggest problem – I tend to like my spooky synth-pop with a voice that’s a bit more non-committal, perhaps even slightly bored sounding, with the odd charmingly bum note and flat vowel thrown in (this is a purely personal preference based on years of conditioning from pop stars from the north of England).
Even so, 2008’s debut album Electricity was largely a triumph, and its standout moment was Sharper Than a Knife. Of course I had no idea of its existence at the time, because nobody bothered to try and launch Parralox in the UK, presumably because lots of people here were already tinkering with their Fairlights and Bontempis and there was thus no need to look further afield.
I think we can all agree that that is a very good pop song – especially because it contains a lovely nod to the Human League’s Heart Like a Wheel with its “Johnny Seven” reference – but four years later Pete Hammond got his hands on it, shifted the clock forward about six years and turned it into a great pop song. All the song’s subtleties are thrown out entirely in favour of creating a massive pop banger (with a brand new vocal) that pays no attention to modern trends whatsoever and therefore – despite being a complete throwback – sounds brilliantly futuristic. Pop fact: this has the best lyric video ever.
I’m not sure I can adequately express my excitement at hearing this for the first time – but I was nearly as thrilled as I was when I first heard Hammond’s remix of Put Your Hands Up by Kylie a couple of years earlier. It was like welcoming a very old friend that you’re actually pleased to see and will quite happily keep around for a bit. Everything about the song is somehow enhanced by using this very standard box of tricks, and every ‘remixed by Mixmaster Pete Hammond for PWL’ flourish is deployed. The funny thing is – and I think this is why the Stock Aitken Waterman/PWL era was so effective – is that even though you’re supposed to be dancing for your life there’s a streak of melancholy running through the production that keeps it in your head long after you’ve lurched to the bar in a sweaty state of collapse.
I’m not entirely certain why this remix happened, or what the intention was – but it did travel as far as the UK. Perhaps there was some testing of the waters going on, but it would appear they were found to be a bit chilly and Parralox remain strangers to the British top 40 to this day – but in the corner of my heart that is forever 1988, they now hold a special place.
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Hazell Dean could do this standing on her head (I knew that flat top haircut would come in handy eventually) – but I think we can safely say that a chart revival for this sound is extremely unlikely.