That clattering sound you thought you heard this week? Yeah, that was a thousand music journalists collectively dropping their pens when David Bowie suddenly released a new single - Where Are We Now? - on his 66th birthday. The British icon, now settled in Manhattan, also announced his first album in 10 years - The Next Day - set for release on March. Bowie, a forward thinking songwriter, addresses mortality and the past on his latest single, fuelling speculation as to whether the singer's latest record could well be his last.
There were murmuring of Bowie's return to the fray in 2012, though most expected him to appear at the London Olympics opening ceremony, sing Heroes and hop back on a plane to the East Coast of America. It never happened, and fans of the superstar were left sighing as Danny Boyle instead screened filmed footage of Bowie during his whistle-stop tour of Britain's pop history. Reviews of Where Are We Now? have been wholly positive, with our own Simon Jay Catling musing "this is a track that maintains the hallmarks of its creator's canon - lyrical signposts, themes that are never fully decoded, questions that open up more questions." Luke Turner of The Quietus said, "The song itself, well, it's proper Bowie, but with a really gorgeous swell, and at times heart-rending reflective tone to it. Brilliant stuff. My word." The Daily Telegraph - who also offered a positive review - quoted a spokesman as saying the track came "from out of nowhere," adding, "Throwing shadows and avoiding the industry treadmill is very David Bowie despite his extraordinary track record that includes album sales in excess of 130 million not to mention his massive contributions in the area of art, fashion, style, sexual exploration and social commentary."
As mentioned, Where Are We Now? sees Bowie in full reflective mood, specifically his years in Berlin in the late 1960s. "Had to get the train from Potsdamer Platz, You never knew that," he sings, before the chorus "Where are we now? Where are we now? The moment you know you know you know." Though it would be folly to second-guess the material on The Next Day, the deep reflection of Where Are We Now? hints at a rapidly approaching concluding period in Bowie's career. His health has been a talking point since he suffered heart attack after coming off-stage at the Hurricane festival in Germany in August 2004. He cancelled the remaining dates of his tour, though performed with Arcade Fire the year after and with Pink Floyd's David Gilmour in 2006. In 2007, he curated an arts and music festival in New York in 2007.
Despite early talk of Glastonbury and Coachella, Bowie's people have already confirmed to BBC6Music that there will be no interviews and no live shows - here's the new material, enjoy it, is the crystal clear message. Fans appear to be more than happy with that, with Where Are We Now? already at No.2 on the iTunes singles chart and fending off competition from the omnipresent Will.i.am. We're sure Bowie's heard of him.