British rock icon David Bowie broke a decade-long musical silence on Tuesday, unveiling a new single to coincide with his 66th birthday and announcing that he will release an album in March.
The flamboyant star surprised the music world by posting a video for the moody track, entitled “Where are We Now?”, on his website (www.davidbowie.com) without any prior announcement.
The new album, “The Next Day”, will be released on March 11.
Critics hailed the song as a major comeback, while fans took to social media to welcome the return of an artist who had appeared to have retired from public life amid rumours about his health.
Bowie has been a relative recluse in recent years, having released no new music since his last album, “Reality”, in 2003, and he has not performed live since 2006.
“January the 8th is of course David Bowie's birthday, a timely moment for such a treasure to appear as if out of nowhere,” a statement on his website said.
“Throwing shadows and avoiding the industry treadmill is very David Bowie despite his extraordinary track record,” it added.
The song was written by Bowie and recorded in New York with his longtime producer Tony Visconti, who has worked with the star on a string of his top-selling albums.
The single is available to download on iTunes and the new album can be pre-ordered. The album will contain 14 tracks and there will be a deluxe version with three bonus tracks.
The video for the single harks back to Bowie's time in Berlin in the 1970s and features his face projected onto the body of a puppet. A young woman's face appears on another puppet next to him.
He is seen looking at an auto repair shop beneath an apartment where he lived in the German city -- which was then divided into West and East Berlin -- during a period that produced the trilogy of albums “Low”, “Heroes” and “Lodger”.
The video was directed by a long-term Bowie collaborator, artist Tony Oursler.
The Twitter hashtag #DavidBowie was still trending on the social networking site worldwide hours after the release of the single.
British music critics meanwhile lapped up Bowie's return.
“David Bowie’s elegiac new single may be the most surprising, perfect and welcome comeback in rock history,” said the Daily Telegraph's Neil McCormick, describing it as “lush, stately, beautifully strange”.
The Guardian's Alexis Petridis said Bowie's voice sounded “gorgeously fragile”, adding that it was “incredible” in the Internet age for one of the world's biggest stars to make a new album with no one knowing.
“The main reason it's created such a fuss is simply because no one knew,” he wrote.
Bowie, whose real name is David Jones, has reportedly spent most of the past decade living in New York with his wife, the Somali-American model Iman, and their daughter.
He underwent a medical procedure for a blocked artery in 2004 which forced him to cancel a tour to promote his last album, and has rarely been seen in public since then.
Bowie reportedly turned down an offer to sing at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
His son, the director Duncan Jones, who was formerly known as Zowie Bowie and went on to win awards for his film “Moon”, paid tribute to his father's new song.
“Would be lovely if all of you could spread the word about da's new album. First in ten years, and its a good 'un!,” Jones wrote on Twitter.
Bowie's androgynous style and outrageous costumes - often worn as part of his alter egos Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane in the 1970s - shook up the world of rock 'n' roll and catapulted him to worldwide stardom.
He has sold an estimated 140 million albums over a career spanning almost 50 years.
But the low-key release of his latest single contrasts with the recent antics of other veteran rockers such as the Rolling Stones, who recently cashed in on their 50th anniversary with an expensive tour and a greatest hits album.