A surprise to no one who knows about their Warner Bros. deal coming to a close and their geographical distancing -- they all now live in opposite corners of the country -- the members of R.E.M. officially called it quits today. The statement posted on the band's website graciously reads, "We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished."
All three original members have since posted individual comments that stress the split is amicable and well-timed: "I hope our fans realize this wasn't an easy decision," frontman Michael Stipe wrote, "but all things must end, and we wanted to do it right, to do it our way."
Commercially, R.E.M. started to fade about two-thirds of the way through its 31-year run. Creatively, though, the Georgia-bred band proved it still had a lot of fire in them on its last two records, especially this year's "Collapse Into Now," which was released in March and has already been somewhat forgotten -- thanks in part to the decision not to tour behind it. That was a good hint this announcement was coming.
Of course, the news is being met with equal parts sadness and skepticism by fans -- i.e., how long before the band gets back together for that $1 million paycheck to play Coachella or Bonnaroo, which will be followed by a few more festival dates, and then a full-on tour, etc.? All that is certainly possible, but consider the case of the band's original drummer: The Duluth-born Bill Berry quit in 1997 to become a farmer, and he truly didn't look back. The other R.E.M. guys have always talked admirably about Berry's decision and sticktoitiveness (or stayawayness?). Maybe they're finally hoping to follow suit.
With that in mind, here's a half-factual and half-subjective assessment of the R.E.M.'s 31-year run:
Biggest album: "Out of Time" (1991, sold 16 million copies worldwide)
Best album: "Reckoning" (1984)
Second-best album: "Life's Rich Pageant" (1986) or "Automatic for the People" (1992)
Most underrated albums: "Collapse Into Now" (2011) and "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" (1996)
Most overrated albums: "Monster" (1994) and "Fables of the Reconstruction" (1985)
Biggest hit single: "Losing My Religion" (1991, peaked at No. 4 on Billboard Hot 100)
Best hit singles: "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" (1987) and "Man on the Moon" (1991)
Worst hit singles (all too easy to name): "Stand" (1988) and "Shiny Happy People" (1991)
Last Minnesota concert: June 5, 2008, at Xcel Energy Center.
First Minnesota concert: Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving), 1981, at First Avenue. Played to an estimated 20 people. Read more about it here.
Most memorable Minnesota concert: 1999 at Midway Stadium, when heavy rain and distant thunder made an intense backdrop to "It's the End of the World As We Know It."