DAVID BOWIE has long been a master of the unexpected and he stunned the music world again yesterday by releasing his first new single in a decade and breaking years of silence and speculation.
The music icon, who shot to fame in the late 60s with Space Oddity, released the new song Where Are We Now? to coincide with his 66th birthday (which he shares with Elvis Presley). The track appeared on iTunes with an accompanying atmospheric video, featuring the musician’s pensive face projected onto a puppet, on his website.
The fact that he managed to release the song without the twitter rumour mill and internet gossips getting wind of it is testament to the mystique that still surrounds the man who invented Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane.
Bowie fans could barely conceal their excitement as it also emerged a follow-up album, called The Next Day, is due to come out in March. Broadcaster and writer Jon Ronson wrote on Twitter: “Did you think David Bowie would never release another record or be seen again? We were wrong. And it’s great.”
The star’s previous album of new material, Reality, was released in 2003 and perhaps unsurprisingly, given the length of time that’s elapsed since he was last heard, Bowie’s voice sounds older and more world-weary. The melancholic ballad sees him reviewing his time in Berlin – where he created some of his most groundbreaking music in the 1970s – as he lists some of his old haunts with the repeated line “just walking the dead.”
Bowie has not performed live since 2006 when he appeared alongside David Gilmour at London’s Royal Albert Hall and a few months later on the bill of a charity concert in New York. He has rarely been seen in public since then, leading to rumours of possible ill-health which were denied by his spokesman. Once known for his flamboyance and the constant reinvention of his look and sound, the star turned down the opportunity to appear at the Olympic Opening Ceremony last year, despite a personal plea by director Danny Boyle.
Bowie has sold a staggering 130 million albums during a career than spans six decades, and within hours of the new album being announced it was number five in the iTunes store on the back of pre-orders.
Rock music publisher and author Chris Charlesworth, who interviewed Bowie back in the 70s, admits he didn’t expect him to make a comeback. “I was very surprised when I heard the news because I had assumed that David Bowie had effectively retired and decided to spend his life in what I imagine would be pleasant luxury with his wife and family,” he says.
“Part of David Bowie’s persona was that looking good was almost as important as sounding good. He was always immaculately dressed and looked fantastic on stage, and maybe he thought he was getting on a bit and decided to stop.”
Today’s pop stars and celebrities practically fall over themselves in a desperate attempt to stay in the limelight whereas Bowie, to use the old maxim, has been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.
Not that he’s the first music star to make a long-awaited comeback. John Lennon famously went on a five-year ‘break’from the music industry to spend time with his family before returning in 1980 with what, tragically, proved to be his final album, Double Fantasy.
Similarly, the likes of Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen returned to form when it seemed their best work was behind them, and who’s to say Bowie isn’t about to enjoy a similar renaissance?
“Kate Bush disappeared from view and then last year she put a record out and the world went potty, and it’s similar with Bowie,” says Charlesworth. “He’s an iconic figure who has been quiet for a long time and silence creates curiosity because people want to know what you’re doing.”
Bowie’s return is also one in the eye for those who think that rock ‘n’ roll is just a young man’s game, although Charlesworth believes his enduring appeal transcends the usual age barriers.
“It’s not a generational thing. There are a lot of different people who look up to him, my daughter’s 20 and she’s been asking me all about him. He’s never been an old fart, he had a period in the 80s when he did some below par work but he managed to overcome that.
“He’s constantly changed and always come up with something new – and that has helped his longevity.”
Thankfully, we haven’t got long to wait to hear what the man with many alter egos conjures up next.