WHEN the email arrived, announcing the surprise return of the master of musical reinvention, it was titled, appropriately, "Where is David Bowie?"
Ten years after his last release – a decade marked by speculation that the star had variously retired, fallen seriously ill or become a recluse – David Bowie was back, with a melancholy new song that was immediately hailed as a masterpiece by fans, and a haunting video.
With none of the hype which normally accompanies the return of a rock legend, the new song, entitled 'Where Are We Now?', slipped on to iTunes overnight and was immediately made available to download – on Bowie's 66th birthday. Within hours it had shot to the top of the UK iTunes chart.
An album, 'The Next Day', his 30th studio recording, will follow in March. A complete track-listing, issued with the news, confirmed its existence.
Feverish speculation followed that Bowie would return to the live stage, possibly headlining this summer's Glastonbury.
"Getting David Bowie to tour is the holy grail of promoters," said John Giddings, who promotes the singer's UK shows.
This sudden burst of Bowie activity came as a welcome surprise, even to the star's own representatives.
Little has been seen of the singer since he suffered chest pains during a 2004 concert in Germany. This was diagnosed as an acute blocked artery, requiring an emergency angioplasty.
The rest of the tour, accompanying the well-received 'Reality' album, was cancelled and Bowie retreated to his luxury penthouse apartment in Manhattan, with his supermodel wife Iman and their daughter Alexandria.
Beyond the occasional guest appearance, there was no sign that Bowie was interested in rejoining the musical fray.
A recent snatched picture of Bowie buying his lunch in Soho, wearing a flat cap and a hoodie but finally looking his age, suggested nothing quite as dramatic. Yet Bowie, who once sold asset-backed securities against his future album royalties, was acutely aware that his cultural value was rising. He secretly began work on a new album with long-term collaborator Tony Visconti.
Bowie gave unprecedented access to his archive of Ziggy Stardust-era costumes for a major retrospective at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, showcasing his influence on fashion and art. His new album will be released to coincide with the launch of the exhibition in March.
In an era of over-exposed festival headliners, Bowie can name his fee whenever he chooses to return to the stage.
The enthusiastic response to his under-stated comeback confirmed Bowie as music's last true enigma. (© Independent News Service)
Take a bow, Mr Bowie