After co-founding Toronto-based punk(ish) band Cardboard Brains back in 1976, and leading them through a pair of swell EPs (the frankly formulaic Cardboard Brains 77 and the poppier Black EP two years later) as well as a slot on the scene-defining Last Pogo LP, John Paul Young must have felt constricted by the form-fitting straitjacket of three-chord punk. Young was the middle-class son of medical doctors, and allegedly progeny of both Brigham Young and the founder of American rocketry, Dr. Robert Goddard, and was probably a poor fit for a Toronto scene populated by yobs, headbangers and street youth (as chronicled in Liz Worth's excellent Treat Me Like Dirt).
By 1980 Young had set off on his own, playing all the instruments on this quasi-conceptual collection of robot-like minimal synth tracks. And on a continent that was still digesting the original punk movement, The Life of Ernie Scub would surely have been as left-field as they came. With its period analog synths, percolating drum machines and disaffected vocals, the record had more in common with the early OMD, the Normal or even San Francisco's Units than much of what was happening in Toronto at the time. That said, the bulk of ...Ernie Scub is mopy and tedious, with Young's lethargic singing especially annoying. Still, there are flickers of brilliance here, like the two-minute 'Have You Seen the Boy in the Gutter with the Broken Mind?', a frantic electo-workout worthy of Martin Rev, or the whimsical synths on 'The Boulevards of Hope', which seem to edge curiously close to Residents territory (circa The Commercial Album).
Almost implausibly, The Life of Ernie Scub actually reached the digital world in 1998 on the Cardboard Brains' career-spanning compilation John Paul Young And Cardboard Brains (MEG Entertainment).
All music by John Paul Young; except:
Electronics by Stanley A. Viezner
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