The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra

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The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra
Studio album by The Firesign Theatre
Released 1974
Genre Comedy
Length 40:41
Label Columbia
Producer The Firesign Theatre
The Firesign Theatre chronology
A Firesign Chat With Papoon
(1972)
The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra
(1974)
Everything You Know Is Wrong
(1974)
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
The New Rolling Stone Record Guide 2/5 stars
Allmusic 3/5 stars[1]

The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra is a comedy album recorded by The Firesign Theatre and released in early 1974 by Columbia Records.

Track listing[edit]

Side one - London[edit]

  1. "Chapter 1 - Not Quite The Solution He Expected"
  2. "Chapter 2 - An Outrageously Disgusting Disguise"
  3. "Chapter 3 - Where There's Smoke, There's Work"

Side two - Chicago[edit]

  1. "Chapter 4 - Where Did Jonas Go When The Lights Went Out?"
  2. "Chapter 5 - Pickles Down The Rat Hole!"
  3. "Chapter 6 - The Electrician Exposes Himself!"

Detailed track information and commentary[edit]

Following a rather disjointed string of solo projects and anthologies, this was the group's first album to consist entirely of a single cohesive narrative since I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus. This began something of a second wind that would continue with Everything You Know Is Wrong and In the Next World, You're on Your Own before the group finally ended its association with Columbia.

Philip Proctor plays detective Hemlock Stones (Sherlock Holmes) and David Ossman plays Flotsam (Watson), his "patient doctor and biographer".

The lighthearted tale is full of puns, including a running gag in which Flotsam, eager to chronicle the adventure, tries to write down everything Stones says but mishears it all as something similar-sounding; for example, "rattan-festooned" is written down as "rat-infested." Allusions also are made to Sherlock Holmes's use of cocaine ("Stones, you snowball!"), his violin playing, and other familiar story elements.

The members of the group take different attitudes towards this album. In the liner notes to Shoes for Industry: The Best of the Firesign Theatre, David Ossman is cheerful when discussing it and says that "I always thought it was the closest thing to the relentlessly pun-filled one-acts we did in clubs." In fact, an earlier bootleg version, By the Light of the Silvery, is not only closer to the spirit of their nightclub performances, but is strikingly reminiscent of The Goon Show, which was one of the group's main inspirations. It bears almost no resemblance to the version that was finally committed to vinyl.

Phil Austin, on the other hand, says "The Sherlock Holmes album didn't do anybody any good . . . the general public was by that point beginning to tire of psychedelia anyway, and we were unfortunately always going to be associated with that."

The review in 1983's The New Rolling Stone Record Guide tends to agree with Austin and calls this album "A halfassed comeback containing only one good joke."

The Firesign Theatre commentary website benway.com, in a much more positive spin, notes about the album that "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" in number of listenings--and pays dividends of laughter and insight."

Releases and reissues[edit]

This album was originally released simultaneously on LP and 8 Track.

  • LP - Columbia KC-32730
  • 8 Track - Columbia CA-32730

It has been re-released on CD at least once

  • 2001 - Laugh.com LGH1076

Title[edit]

The title is derived from the Sherlock Holmes short story "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire," written by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1924.

"Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson," said Holmes in a reminiscent voice. "It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared. But what do we know about vampires? Does it come within our purview either? Anything is better than stagnation, but really we seem to have been switched on to a Grimms' fairy tale. Make a long arm, Watson, and see what V has to say."

Holmes fans have speculated on the nature of the giant rat story for decades. The Firesign version seems to begin with Watson about to write the tale anyway since the pair are desperate for money, but he never quite gets around to telling it.

Notes[edit]

References[edit]