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The Tale Of The Giant Rat Of Sumatra
1974 - The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra: Columbia C 32730
is, to me, the least understood Firesign album, which is ironic since it
is, in many ways, their most accessable. The problems are twofold and one
at the same time. That is, the breakneck pace, which stems from Hemlock
Stone's fascination with certain cocoa products, makes the album a challenge
on first listening. Give it 30 or 40 spins, however, and things slow down
and become much clearer.
The theme of this interesting and subtly complex album is environmentalist in nature. (So to speak.) The slogan "Where there's smoke, there's work!" sums up the politcal position which is put forth. The American Ruling Class, personified by Mr. Acme Sr., rapes the planet, exploits the uncomplicated peoples (such as Willard) and steals their treasure--unspoiled nature itself. Careful listening reveals Firesign in all their glory: poetic ("blackening peasant's houses" "me and the doc on the dock with the dog--the deadly dog"), silly ("I sat on my pipe!"), strange (the hole in Lake Acme), and filled with meaning and non-meaning alike.
It is well worth repeated listenings--it rivals "Bozos" and "Dwarf" for me in number of listenings--and pays dividends of laughter and insight.
Len Not Clem
"Giant Rat" is the
first "comeback album" for the Firesign Theatre. They had just
re-grouped after a short break to relieve inter-group tensions and produce
some solo projects (the latter helping to acheive the former). "Rat"
was a piece they had previously enjoyed performing onstage, so it was
decided to flesh it out into the next album after the fairly-disastrous
"Not Insane." It is a solid piece, very funny but decidedly
less lofty in it's concerns than perhaps any other album the group produced.
It's a straight Sherlock Holmes parody, though not a satire on any particular
book. The silly plot is basically an excuse for a ton of puns, jokes,
homonyms, non-sequitirs, and any other form of outrageous verbal humor
one can squeeze in under an hour. There's little commentary on the state
of the world, universe, media, culture, or anything else, making the whole
enterprise seem a tad frivolous and empty. This is probably the primary
reason this album is never included on anyone's favorite Firesign album
list, which is a shame as it's such a fun, coherent, and lively piece.
It moves at a lightning pace yet is not confusing, like "Shaespeare's