The End Of The World: R.E.M. Calling It Quits

R.I.P. to R.E.M.

Photo: John Davisson
Sasquatch! Festival, Gorge Amphitheatre, George, Wash.

The alternative rock group that shook up the music world with its experimental, edgy sound and then earned multiplatinum success and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced on its website Wednesday that it has “decided to call it a day as a band.”

“A wise man once said – ‘the skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave.’ We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we’re going to walk away from it,” frontman Michael Stipe said in a statement on the website.

“I hope our fans realize this wasn’t an easy decision; but all things must end, and we wanted to do it right, to do it our way.”

The Grammy-winning group, now composed of Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills, released its debut album Murmur in 1983; at the time it was a quartet, with drummer Bill Berry. He left the group in 1997, two years after he suffered symptoms of an aneurysm onstage.

The group got its start in Athens, Ga., coming out of the region’s flourishing indie-rock scene. The band was credited for helping launch college radio with songs such as “Radio Free Europe.”

Later, the mainstream caught on, and R.E.M. became chart-topping rockers, selling millions of albums with hits like “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” ‘‘Losing My Religion” and “Everybody Hurts.”

Photo: Rick Diamond / WireImage
Frontman Michael Stipe, plus guitarist Pete Buck equal an R.E.M. performance at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga.

Stipe, the band’s chief songwriter, crafted songs that were atypical of the standard rock fare. “Man on the Moon” was about the late comic Andy Kaufman. “Losing My Religion” was not about religion at all, but about trying to relay the feelings of a crush.

The band’s videos also became staples on MTV in the 1990s, including the eye-catching “Losing My Religion” and the stark “Everybody Hurts,” which had Stipe walking through a highway traffic jam.

R.E.M. became one of the more forceful voices of 1990s rock, and came along around the same time as another rock quartet – U2. But whereas U2 managed to maintain (and even increase) its popularity over the years, R.E.M. stumbled commercially in recent years, and their hits dwindled.

The band continued to create music that resonated with critics and their core group of fans; the group’s last album, Collapse into Now, was released in March and a greatest hits retrospective is in the works.

But Mills said the band was running out of ideas.

“During our last tour, and while making Collapse Into Now and putting together this greatest hits retrospective, we started asking ourselves, ‘What next?’” he said. “Working through our music and memories from over three decades was a hell of a journey. We realized that these songs seemed to draw a natural line under the last 31 years of our working together.”

Buck said the band parts as “great friends” and thanked fans for their support.

“One of the things that was always so great about being in R.E.M. was the fact that the records and the songs we wrote meant as much to our fans as they did to us,” said Buck. “It was, and still is, important to us to do right by you. Being a part of your lives has been an unbelievable gift. Thank you.”

Warner Bros. Records chairman and producer Rob Cavallo said, “To call R.E.M. one of the greatest bands in contemporary music is an understatement. They leave behind a body of work whose breadth, honesty, creativity and power has not only inspired millions of fans around the world, but also has influenced – and will continue to influence – generations of songwriters and performers for years to come.”

Photo: AP Photo / CP
An estimated 20,000 fans enjoy a free performance by R.E.M. in downtown Toronto.

Warner Bros. is releasing the greatest hits retrospective in November.