R.E.M. Break Up: 'Our Deepest Thanks for Listening' (Billboard)

Seminal alternative rock group R.E.M. , once arguably the biggest band in the world, called it quits Wednesday (Sept. 21) after 31 years and 15 albums together. In a simple statement on their website , the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers behind landmark albums including 'Document' and 'Automatic for the People' give thanks to fans for sticking with them through a career that saw its share of highs and lows.

'To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening.'

The remaining three members of the band, singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills, soon chimed in to expand on why they're breaking up now, just six months after releasing their fifteenth album. Mills said the group's latest series of projects helped them come to the decision.

"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. "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."

Stipe added in a matter-of-fact way that it was just time to "walk away," though it wasn't an easy decision to come to.

"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," he noted. "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."

Buck noted that the members of the band (including long-departed drummer Bill Berry) may be breaking up but "walk away as great friends." He promises to see fans again, "Even if it's only in the vinyl aisle of your local record store, or standing at the back of the club: watching a group of 19 year olds trying to change the world."

Since forming as a quartet in 1980, R.E.M. released 15 studio albums, beginning with their seminal 1983 debut "Murmur." An acclaimed string of albums ("Lifes Rich Pageant," the band's fourth full-length, was given a 25th-anniversary reissue last July) and singles ("It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" highlighted 1987's "Document") followed before 1991's "Out of Time" yielded two of the band's biggest hits, "Shiny Happy People" and " Losing My Religion," the latter of which peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100 and won Video of the Year at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards.

The band's eighth studio album, 1992's "Automatic for the People," arguably stands as R.E.M.'s most universally acclaimed full-length, with the ballad "Everybody Hurts" becoming a surprise hit and the Andy Kaufman tribute "Man on the Moon" inspiring the 1999 film of the same name. The band released two more albums, 1994's "Monster" and 1996's "New Adventures in Hi-Fi," before original drummer Bill Berry amicably departed the group in Oct. 1997, prior to the release of 1998's "Up."

Breakup Playlist: 10 Essential R.E.M. Songs

After two middling albums, 2001's "Reveal" and 2004's "Around the Sun," R.E.M. was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame upon its first year of eligibility in 2006. The band soon regrouped with producer Jacknife Lee and adopted a fiercer sound for 2008's "Accelerate," which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.

The band's 15th studio album, "Collapse Into Now," was released last March, but the group opted not to tour behind the record. "It just doesn't feel right," Mills told Billboard in February. "We've always gone with our gut instinct on everything, and right now it just didn't feel like touring was the thing we needed to do."

"Collapse Into Now" has sold 142,000 copies, adding to the 19.3 million album sales the band has garnered since the SoundScan era began in 1991, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

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