ALAN JACKSON gets his wires crossed as he tries to come to terms with Rambo, Rimbaud and Kevin Hunter of WIRE TRAIN, the latest hot US import.

I MEAN I’m not a super-intelligent guy”, Wire Train’s Kevin Hunter is saying. “I’m not KevinBWRambo…” He certainly doesn’t look like Sylvester Stallone. If Rambo were to wear black boots I doubt if they would be as needle-pointed and feature as many buckles as the pair splayed on the floor beside me. I doubt too if he’d own a pair of drainpipe jeans and wear such a flamboyant shirt – an orange and puce psychedelic number in something akin to velour that looks, by Hunter’s own admission, as if it should belong to a Puerto Rican drug dealer.
“You’re not who?” I ask, rather apologetically. “Rimbaud”, he repeats good-naturedly in his soft, rather earnest voice. “Rimbaud.” A-ha. Yes. Check. Gotcha. That Rimbaud. The French guy.

We’re back on course now and Hunter is telling me how he gave up his youthful ambition to write poetry or fiction back when he was 16 – an ambition force-fed by liberal helpings of the French classics during a boarding school education in Cannes.

“It was then that I realised the novel as an art form is completely dead”, he says. “The only thing that makes it today is garbage. The days of Hemingway having a best-seller are long since over and communicating real fresh, honest ideas isn’t an avenue open to novelists.”

I’m not sure that I agree. In fact, I certainly don’t. But while casting around for suitable evidence the name of Bret Easton Ellis comes to me. His “Less Than Zero” has caused quite a fuss for a first novel, and is set in the kind of world which Hunter, the son of a respected Hollywood set designer, probably knows So what about him?

“Oh God, what a cad. What a jerk,” he says, leaning forward to demonstrate the strength of his disapproval. “I was at a house where one of the scenes for that book was set and… Oh, what a lie. If anyone believes that book is anything other than cheap fiction … Essentially, it is to reality what The Sun is to news. His prose is abominable, he writes like a tenth grade dilettante. He’s completely jaded.”

Friends of Hunter shouldn’t expect to find a copy of “Less Than Zero” in with his Christmas card. Perhaps instead they’ll receive a copy of Wire Train’s third album, if it’s ready for release by then. Certainly the first two sets have caused something of a stir, with the word spreading from the band’s native San Francisco, taking in America’s east coast and, more recently, Britain, helped by a series of spring live dates, some solo, some as support to The Bangles.

The Wire Train sound is quintessentially American, yet something in Hunter’s vocals and in the chiming guitars that frame them may remind you of, well, U2. It’s even been said that they sound more like U2 than U2 do, unkindly. Either way, Bono is said to have rated their debut LP In A Chamber as his favourite of 1984, and the recently-released Between Two Words and its single Skills Of Summer may well win similar endorsement.

What Hunter most wants is for people like me to stop asking him his views and concentrate instead on understanding the band itself. “Well for a start, we don’t want to get up and wave the flag. Take ‘Blonde On Blonde’. It gives you a tremendous sense of humanity and morality, but not through leading you by the nose. It does it in a backhanded sort of way, and it doesn’t give everybody the same morality. It inspires you to be human, to check on your humanity. And that’s one of our primary functions, to try and trigger people’s humanity by making them remember things they felt pure and right about.”

He pauses, stares at the blue-gemmed ring on his right hand then grins. “There”, he says, “that was pretty clear, wasn’t it?” Rambo couldn’t have put it better himself.