In a surprising announcement via their official website, R.E.M. have stated that they are breaking up, ending a highly successful and creatively influential career of more than three decades. Founding members Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills (original drummer Bill Berry departed in 1997) issued a statement insisting this was a friendly and mutual decision:

"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." R.E.M.

Each member then goes on to give their own individual reasons for the split, with bassist Mills explaining that the band's last album, this year's 'Collapse into Now,' "seemed to draw a natural line under the last 31 years of our working together."

Lead singer Stipe, who evolved from a shy singer, often hiding in the stage shadows, into one of the more dynamic and politically upfront activists in rock and roll over the band's career, noted that "the skill in attending a party is knowing when it's time to leave."

Guitarist Buck, meanwhile, thanks everyone who has supported the band over the years and promises that you'll find him "standing at the back of the club, watching a group of 19 year olds trying to change the world."

Mills is right about 'Collapse Into Now,' by the way. It's their strongest in years, touching on sounds from across R.E.M.'s storied career. If they knew this was going to be their last album, they certainly ended on a high note.

This news also gives more weight to the album's coda, wherein they tie the whole record into a never-ending loop by reprising the chiming guitar riff of opening track 'Discoverer,' repeating that title until it becomes a mission statement. Check it out and tell us that's not the sound of three men headed boldly into an unknown future.

OK, or maybe that's reading a bit too much into it. Forgive us, our teenage years just ran a little further away!

Watch R.E.M. Perform Aerosmith's 'Toys in the Attic' Live


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