What, no weepy farewell album? No cash-vacuuming last tour of the world’s stadiums?
Not for R.E.M., apparently. The band that led the rise of alternative music from the ’80s to the ’90s, and pioneered a new way to be rock stars, announced Wednesday they’re breaking up after 31 years with a quiet notice on their Web site.
“We have decided to call it a day as a band,” Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills wrote in their statement on R.E.M.’s Web site. “We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished.”
And in case you were wondering: “There’s no disharmony here, no falling-outs, no lawyers squaring-off,” wrote Mills. “The time just feels right.”
Formed in Athens, Ga., in 1980, the band found a fervid fan base of post-boomers through constant touring of the South. In the ’90s, the college-radio heroes were suddenly topping the charts, with songs like “Losing My Religion” and “Everybody Hurts.”
“They invented the college radio circuit,” Rolling Stone’s Anthony DeCurtis, who profiled the band numerous times, told our colleague Chris Richards. “There were so many bands that got lit up by it. All of that is their legacy. Nirvana is part of their legacy and Kurt Cobain would have been the first person to say that.”
Like U2, R.E.M. crafted an identity as rocker-statesmen, actively promoting political and social causes — feminism, Burma, the environment, John Kerry. Frontman Stipe gradually came out of the closet more than a decade ago, but in the new alt-culture they ushered in, no one made a big deal about it.
In 1997, founding drummer Bill Berry left the band. The group soldiered on as a trio, but lost momentum with each release. R.E.M. dropped its 15th (and last, we now know) album, “Collapse Into Now” in March, to positive but quiet praise.
This is an autumn of alt-nostalgia — 20 years since Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers broke out in the mainstream. Those bands — like U2 and Metallica, which also released epochal albums in 1991 — are all celebrating with new releases, milestone documentaries or deluxe re-issues. But from R.E.M. — which released its most acclaimed album, “Out of Time,” that year — we just get a breakup. (Oh, and a “greatest hits” disc in November.)
Read also: R.E.M. in The Washington Post, through the years, a look back at their concert and album reviews. . .