David Bowie's New Single Is No Splashy Comeback

01/09/2013 at 05:00 PM EST

David Bowie New Single Is No Splashy Comeback, Says PEOPLE's Music Critic
David Bowie
Jimmy King
"Where Are We Now?" ponders a plaintive David Bowie on his comeback single after seemingly retiring from music. Indeed, this august, atmospheric ballad previews his first album in 10 years, The Next Day, due out March 12.

Out of nowhere the song was dropped in the middle of the night on Jan. 8 – which just happens to be Bowie's birthday (he turned 66). The low-key release certainly suits the understated tone of the tune, which is hardly the splashy comeback one might have expected from the glam god who was once Ziggy Stardust.

Instead, Bowie plays the reflective elder statesman dispensing some existential lyrics: "The moment you know, you know you know."

While the track – produced by Tony Visconti, who also worked on the star's Berlin Trilogy from 1977 to 1979 – ultimately doesn't give many answers, it at least tells us where Bowie has been lately. And it's a welcome return from one of our great rock heroes.

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