Perhaps more surprising than REM splitting up is that they were still together after so many years of releasing indifferent material, with each new album being hailed as a return to form but flattering to deceive.
It also provokes me to reflect on a quirk in my own musical taste, namely a tendency to lose interest in artists I like as soon as they become successful. I was a relatively early follower of REM, first hearing them in 1984 at the time of their second album, Reckoning, and playing 'Don't go back to Rockville' endlessly. Their wistful, melancholic sound was unmistakeable, as were Michael Stipe's mumbled vocals that left you with the impression of profound lyrics that you somehow couldn't quite hear. For a while I would buy everything they recorded as soon as it was released. I even rather liked their much-derided third album, Fables of the Reconstuction (hence the youtube clip).
They seemed to be a band that would remain a reasonably well-kept secret, admired by those of use who enjoyed now following the mainstream. And then of course the sound got louder, Stipe stopped mumbling, 'Everybody hurts' followed 'Shiny happy people' and the secret was out. While Out of time and Automatic for the people were in their own way fine albums, to me they lacked quintessential REM-ness. One started hearing people describe themselves as REM fans, who hadn't heard anything they had recorded before 1992.
So, listening to REM was no fun anymore and I mostly stopped buying the albums. But once upon a time they were indeed special.