Earlier today, the Internet became obsessed with risqué photos of Michael Stipe the frontman posted online himself in July. In a seeming coincidence, just hours later, the band published a brief statement on its official website confirming R.E.M. are no more. Nobody could have imagined one of the world's best bands would come to an end this bizarre way 31 years ago, when four scrawny college kids played their first ever show in a converted Georgia church.
R.E.M.'s overall greatness is not debatable: They truly were one of the greatest American rock bands. The group released 15 studio albums, 10 of which featured all four original members -- singer Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry. They didn't invent "college rock," but were responsible for consolidating its general sonic format -- the lo-fi jangle -- into a cohesive sound. They sang about internal turmoil and external dilemmas like polluted Ohio rivers and the cultural stifling that accompanied Reagan-era conservatism. They made it to the cover of Rolling Stone while still on indie label I.R.S., then leaped to the majors and released a trio of albums that demonstrated smart rock could also be accessible: Green, Out of Time, and Automatic for the People.
For a moment in the mid-'90s, Stipe and Co. defined the sound of alt-rock radio, and it wasn't clear who was the biggest band in the world: R.E.M. or U2. It soon became evident R.E.M. weren't interested in that particular gig. After meandering creatively in the beginning of the twenty-first century, R.E.M. seemed to find the spark anew, and their final two studio albums, 2008's Accelerate and 2010's Collapse Into Now, can stand confidently next to some of their finest work. The band evidently feels the same way:
"During our last tour, and while making Collapse Into Now and putting together this greatest hits retrospective, we started asking ourselves, 'What next?' " Mills said in a statement. "We realized that these songs seemed to draw a natural line under the last 31 years of our working together." Stipe added, "We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we're going to walk away from it."
Weep along with The Amp and look back at our picks for the best track for all 15 of R.E.M.'s records, plus check out a few bonus live clips right here:
[Photo: Chris Walter/WireImage.com]