Michael Stipe and co. called it quits on Wednesday, after several harmonious decades as R.E.M. This is somewhat of a bummer, though it'd be disingenuous to claim any sort of long-standing fandom of a band enjoying its heyday as ATG sucked back pacifiers. But as music fans, there's an inherent need to cover the right bases when landscape changes occur. ATG reached out to the pre-eminent R.E.M. scholar in the field, my buddy Josh Bradshaw:
"Before you start, watch Michael Stipe in this clip from The Adventures of Pete and Pete.
R.E.M.'s career is neatly divided between the IRS years (80-88) and their Warner Bros albums (88'-94/96')...and well, the 'meh' years (94 or 96'-now).
I'd recommend starting with the IRS compilation, Eponymous to see which albums the tracks you like are on, then going from there to explore their '80s work. Murmur's great but I feel it's one of those historically hyped albums that's easily disappointing.
Green, Out of Time, and Automatic For The People are the huge albums. Out of Time is easily the poppiest and most divisive (i.e. the "Shiney Happy People" song). Green's a bit heavier and darker (for R.E.M.) and Automatic is one of the best albums ever recorded by anyone ever.
It gets kinda dicey after that. Monster and New Adventures in Hi-Fi were their last solid albums. Up and Reveal had some good singles but are pretty mediocre. Around the Sun will put you to sleep. If you've managed to get hooked, save Accelerate and Collapse Into Now for last, they are great to end on, but, I dunno, they don't mean much if you haven't heard their previous work."