NEW YORK TIMES: On “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” the new single from David Bowie’s comeback album, “The Next Day,” one line jumps out: “We will never be rid of these stars.” In the video Mr. Bowie and the actress Tilda Swinton play an elderly couple persecuted by a pair of vampiric stars, who stalk them, invade their house and manipulate them like marionettes. But the song itself is less literal. It portrays celebrities as members of an overlord class who “burn you with their radiant smiles” but also as faintly pitiable creatures, jealous of the quiet, grounded lives of ordinary folk. “But I hope they live forever,” Mr. Bowie sings, a nod to the notion of fame as immortality, a compensation for all the damage and delusion that comes with the territory.

Fame and death are closely braided themes shadowing “The Next Day,” which is receiving acclaim as Mr. Bowie’s strongest album in decades. Imagery of decay, debility and dejection pervade the record: “Here am I/Not quite dead/My body left to rot in a hollow tree,” Mr. Bowie sings on the title track. For most of the 21st century Mr. Bowie had disappeared from view, even as the glam theatricality and gender-bending he pioneered was dominating pop through figures like Lady Gaga. Most assumed that he’d effectively retired, physically exhausted after a major heart attack and surgery in 2004, creatively spent after four decades of self-reinvention. But in a brilliantly organized stealth attack he returned without warning in January with the wistful single “Where Are We Now?,” the herald for “The Next Day,” which is out on Columbia on Tuesday.

The album, his first in a decade, asserts Mr. Bowie’s continued relevance as a musician and songwriter. Dark in theme and surprisingly harsh sounding, “The Next Day” nods to high points in his past, notably “Lodger,” from 1979, but the lyrics are unusually direct and unflinching for an artist who has often hidden behind masks or wrapped bleakness in obliqueness. Meanwhile Mr. Bowie’s stature in pop history as the performer who most convincingly bridged the gap between art and rock is being shored up by “David Bowie Is,” a retrospective opening March 23 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, a celebration of his mastery of all the nonaudio aspects of pop, including clothes, stage sets, record artwork and video. MORE

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