Music idol David Bowie broke years of silence and speculation today to release his first new single in a decade - with an album to follow.
The star, who shot to fame in the late '60s with "Space Oddity", surprised fans by suddenly releasing a new recording, "Where Are We Now?", on his 66th birthday.
The track appeared on iTunes at 5am with the accompanying atmospheric video premiering on his website.
It was instantly well received by his devotees, with long-time fan Boy George declaring it "bloody gorgeous".
Bowie's last album of new material, Reality, was released in 2003 and after touring the songs he largely withdrew from the public eye, concentrating on his family life as he lived in New York.
Unsurprisingly, 10 years since he was last heard, Bowie's voice sounds older and more world-weary. The melancholic song 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 haunts with the repeated line "just walking the dead".
And in the video directed by Tony Oursler, with the musician's pensive face projected on to a puppet, he appears to be almost biting back tears as he looks back on his life.
Where Are We Now? was written by Bowie and recorded in New York. It was produced by long-term collaborator Tony Visconti, who has worked on many of his most famous albums, beginning with 1969's Space Oddity.
A follow-up album called The Next Day is set to be released in March.
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.
His public withdrawal has led to rumours of poor health, although this has continually been denied.
Bowie, who is known for the constant reinvention of his look and sound, particularly in the 1970s, turned down the opportunity to appear at the Olympics Opening Ceremony last year despite a personal plea by director Danny Boyle.
His re-emergence today quickly caused a buzz online with many praising the single.
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."
Boy George said: "Just bought David Bowie's new single 'Where Are We Now?' - bloody gorgeous. New album coming. How happy am I?"
The single sleeve is an upside-down black and white picture of the star in his "Thin White Duke" days in the 1970s.
The comeback has occurred shortly before a major Bowie exhibition is due to be staged at London's V&A which is designed as a retrospective of his career.
The exhibition opens on March 23, just 11 days after the iTunes store says the album is expected to be released.
Retailers are expecting a huge boost in interest for the musician's back catalogue this year.
Last year a 40th anniversary remastered version of his Ziggy Stardust album was the second biggest-selling vinyl release in the UK, and within hours of the new album being announced it was number five in the iTunes store on the back of pre-orders.
Gennaro Castaldo of entertainment retailer HMV said: "The thing with Bowie, as with any chart icon, is that when people are reminded of the brilliance of his music, they want to listen to it again, and alongside his original followers still enjoying his albums on CD and vinyl, his songs are now just a download away for a whole new internet generation of potential fans that are out there, so we can expect an explosion of interest in 2013.
"Classic albums such as Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane and particularly his greatest hits continue to sell well and there was a noticeable recent boost after Heroes was selected to accompany the entry of Team GB into the Olympics Stadium for the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games.
"With the forthcoming Bowie retrospective at the V&A we expected sales of his catalogue to pick up significantly anyway, but with a new album due in March demand should really increase."
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