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Parental advisory: The following is an interview with a foul-mouthed British rock star. Be prepared to detour around profanities. 'It's better to burn out than fade away," sang Neil Young more than 20 years ago, but some rock 'n' rollers prefer to pass the torch while they've still got some fingers left.

Take Noel Gallagher, for instance: the Oasis songwriter, guitarist and occasional singer was an infamous bon vivant -- at least until a couple of years ago.

"It's because British people wanted it -- 'the bad boys of rock' -- so there we were," he remembers. "We were happy to oblige for a few years . . . For every Beatles, there's gotta be a Stones. There's got to be a Sex Pistols once every 10, 15 years just to keep it interesting. They decided there hadn't been any bad boys around for a while, and we sat in a corner drinking, going like that [Gallagher raises his middle finger]to everyone, telling everyone to go and fuck themselves -- and 'Presto!' That was it."

Five years of rock 'n' roll excess (cancelled U.S. tours, frequent public bouts with younger brother Liam and various altercations) and three albums later proved to be enough for Noel; since touring 1997's Be Here Now he has been rethinking his life and his music.

Fittingly, the band's new album, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants,has a transitional feel to it, with some tracks looking backward to the band's defiant past, but the more interesting ones -- especially those sung by Noel -- displaying a new breadth and vulnerability. The album has a slightly more "modern" sound than its predecessors, but its biggest revolution isn't in the much-touted (and largely absent) dance music inspiration; it's in the songs' diversity and Gallagher's lyrical maturity.

"As you get older," Gallagher explains, "you tend to get less flippant about what you're putting down on paper. When I was younger, I would just write whatever sounded good, and whatever rhymed, generally using the words as a musical instrument. Whereas now, I'm tending to think, 'I wanna write something down that's going to mean as much to me in five years' time.' "

Indeed, the 32-year-old is just as interested these days in being here later as in being here now. In person, he still has his legendary attitude (and his legendary massive eyebrows), but also a wry, self-deprecating streak. His less-than-gigantic 5-foot, 8-inch frame perched on a revolving chair in his studio in the Buckinghamshire countryside, he's in good form this day, even at the un-rock 'n' roll hour of 11:30 a.m. It can't have hurt that it's been two years since he touched the cocaine that earned his band the nickname "Blowasis."

"In your younger years," he explains, "you could stay up for fucking days and days and days doing drugs and drinking and chasing women and all that shite. If that's what you want to do, there isn't a better city in the . . . world than being here [London] But as you get older, you re-evaluate yourself, then you go, 'I've had 14 years of that, man. Drinking and doing drugs, and 14 years is just fucking long enough. Now, I owe it to my health.' "

Noel recalls the genesis of one of the album's more contemplative tracks, the serene psychedelic opus Who Feels Love.

"I think I'd just kicked drugs at the time, and I went away to Thailand with me wife, with just a guitar and a bunch of clothes and a bag, and that was it. I sat on the beach one day, and the sun was coming up, there were some kids playing on the beach, and I was just feeling in a particularly good mood that morning."

The song contains the lines, "Thank you for the sun/the one that shines on everyone who feels love." The songsmith is a bit hard-pressed to explain his lyrics. "Not that I believe in God or anything like that, but I suppose it's thanking the Earth -- I don't know, it's just a spiritual thing. I'm thanking someone -- I don't know who it is, but the all-seeing power, whatever that is, or whoever that is."

It's rather shocking humility from someone who once claimed to be "bigger than God," but Noel seems to have put things in perspective. "I think you'd have to be some sort of fucking pretty arrogant person to think that we're the only people in the universe. I personally believe that there's other civilizations on other planets . . . and I think that there's people on the equivalent of planet Earth somewhere else thinking exactly the same thing."

Noel leans down to pick up a flammable prop. "Say, for instance, this room is the universe that we know, and our galaxy could fit onto the head of that cigarette. And there's fuck all else out there? Give me a fucking favour, mate. No way. I don't think we'll ever get to the bottom [of it]-- certainly not during my lifetime. I'll definitely go to my grave thinking, 'I wonder' -- I'm sure there is, but we'll never get to see it."

The room Gallagher has chosen to represent the universe is part of a studio which used to belong to guitar hero Jeff Beck. It's decorated with numerous psychedelic posters for sixties concerts, an Indian wall hanging, an antique Japanese Space Invaders clone ("The missus got it for me for my 30th birthday," Noel recalls), an even older "Rock-Ola" jukebox with genuine 45s, and a flotilla of plastic yellow submarines. Opposite the massive mixing boards are windows looking out on tranquil green fields and hills. An hour away from central London, it's a far cry from Gallagher's previous residence, the infamous "Supernova Heights."

Noel and wife Meg Matthews (the rocker and the professional party organizer were married in Las Vegas in 1997) used to entertain around the clock; they now live in a secluded spot about 10 minutes from the studio. The drinking scene, for starters, is drastically different: "There's a pub we go to just at the bottom of the lane. We're the only people that ever goes in there. We actually ring the landlord up before we go in and say, 'We're going to come down for a drink,' and he just gets out of bed and opens up, 'coz no one ever goes in there. It's amazing -- I don't know how he makes any money!"

Talking to Gallagher is something like chatting in an English pub with a local character, albeit one who's sharper and better connected than most. Whenever he starts warming up to a subject, he shifts positions in his chair, furrows the brow, and leans forward conspiratorially to dispense wisdom in brusque Mancunian tones.

Take politicians, for example: "They're all just . . . loony. At the end of the day, they're all in it for themselves, really . . . They all give the same bullshit about the will of the people and all that. It's like, 'You're so far removed from what the will of the people is, you wouldn't even know what it was if it came up and bit you in the arse!' "

For Noel, Margaret Thatcher "was just Satan. She lived on the blood of the working class. She was evil." Still, he's cautiously optimistic about Tony Blair, whose prime ministerial campaign he supported.

"It's the lesser of two evils," he maintains. "If you look at the fact that all politicians are evil, money-grabbing, . . . backstabbing bastards, then I'd rather have him than the other one, 'coz he looks cooler, and he's younger. The rest of them are all . . . senile old farts with grey hair, so he's the lesser of two evils, is how I look at it."

Nowadays, after the band's 1994 album Definitely Maybe (propelled by classic tracks such as the aptly-named Cigarettes and Alcohol)was the fastest-selling debut in British history and 1996's (What's the Story) Morning Glory? was the second-biggest seller ever, Oasis have themselves become part of the establishment. It's a position that's reflected in the name of Noel's new record label, Big Brother, established in the wake of the split with their old label, Creation.

"That's the flip side of success," he laments. "You start off being the outsiders, and people love you for that. You never notice when suddenly, five minutes down the line, you go, 'Yeah, we are the establishment, but when did that happen?' . . . The Rolling Stones gradually became dinosaurs. They were considered to be the ugly ducklings to the Beatles' beautiful boys, but all of a sudden The Rolling Stones are just The Rolling Stones, man. They've been going for fucking 500 years. How the fuck did that happen? You just don't know, do you."

There's been many a time when Oasis has tottered on the brink of extinction. Both Gallagher brothers have left the band on different occasions, and last summer, long-time rhythm guitarist Paul (Bonehead) Arthurs and bassist Paul (Guigsy) McGuigan quit for good. Help was enlisted from guitarist Gem Archer, from the band Heavy Stereo, and Andy Bell, formerly of redoubtable indie heroes Ride. Going solo was never an option for Noel.

"I like the togetherness of a band," he admits. "I think if I was to use the name Noel Gallagher, it's not very . . . nice -- it's not exactly Ziggy Stardust, d'you know what I mean? I'd either have to change me name to summat outlandish and fantastic, or I'd just start another band and have someone else singing. I quite like the idea of just being over that way a bit [he points to the left-hand side of an imaginary stage] but earning all the money!"

For now, Noel's ambitions for Oasis are simple: "I just want to be the best band in the 'Old' section in the record shops. That's all you can ask for. As long as people are going to record shops in fifty years time, and as long as we've got the most albums in the 'Old' section, and people go, 'Fucking 'ell, my uncle was telling me about this band he used to be in, called Oasis, and his big brother used to be in them, and there's like four Greatest Hits there and eleven albums' -- that's all we can ask for. How we're perceived in the long run of music, it's . . . anybody's guess . . . but it would be nice to die leaving at least ten albums, instead of three."

In order to write enough songs to fill so many albums, Noel has been broadening his range of influences: "When I'm stuck for writing lyrics, I've got an extensive library of poetry books at home. I've got me mother-in-law and Meg buying them for me, because for Christmas, people used to be just like, 'What can you buy the man who has everything?' So I said, 'Just get me a book -- poetry.' When I'm stuck for a line in a song or trying to express something in a song, I just randomly pick out a book. All the answers are in there."

From icon of excess to contemplative veteran in two short years -- it's hard to believe. Noel's even a father now, his wife having given birth to a daughter, Anais (after French writer Anais Nin) on Jan. 27. Don't think, however, the old irreverence is gone. Just ask Noel whose shoulders he's been standing on lately.

"Rudyard Kipling, at the moment. I don't read the poems per se -- I will take little bits of lines and go, 'I can work with that.' I have no shame. There's a little bit in the song Gas Panic -- either Rudyard Kipling or Yeats or Keats or something like that. I should really remember these things more, but there's a bit in there. I suppose poetry aficionados would look at it and go, 'Oh, that's adapted from a certain poem.' But they're dead and they can't sue me, so there you go!" The new Oasis single, Go Let It Out , was released this week. The new full-length CD, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, will be released in Canada on Feb. 29.