Without a hint of hairy, macho, breast- beating or leather trousered, theatrical pomp, REM rose through the 80s to become a major stadium rock act while sounding nothing like one. They were the standard bearers for alternative US rock and with the exception of U2, were the most popular rock band of the '80s and early nineties with fans and critics alike. REM marked the

point where underground rock became palatable to truck drivers, farmers and the ordinary working man.

The original lineup of Bill Berry (drums), Peter Buck (guitar), Mike Mills (bass) and Michael Stipe (vocals) formed at college in their hometown of Athens, Georgia just to play a few parties. However frat parties and 'wedgies' soon gave way to professionalism when they were signed to the small Hib-Tone label for the release of their first single, Radio Free Europe in 1981. The single perfectly captures the early REM style - Stipe's murmured vocals, beguiling lyrics, soaring melody and jangly guitar gave the band the air of mystery that was vital to their credibility. The band soon caught the eye of IRS label boss Miles Copeland (brother of Stuart 'Police' Copeland) and he signed them for the release of 1982 mini-album Chronic Town and then their first album proper, Murmur in 1983. The album was released to critical raves and was a distillation of the REM sound, from the lilting We Walk to the sinister Moral Kiosk. With Stipe's impenetrable lyrics and melodic melancholy, the album immediately gave the group a compelling air of mystique.

1984's Reckoning album was slightly more accessible with a more polished sound to the production of songs like So Central Rain and Don't Go Back To Rockville. The band took a left turn for their next project, deciding to record Fables Of The Reconstruction in London with veteran folk producer Joe Boyd. With songs like Old Man Kensey the album, which examined the legend of the deep South, was strange, haunting, slightly oblique and one REM fans would leave off their all-time favourite lists.

The three albums that followed, Life's Rich Pageant (1986), Document (1987) and Green (1989) marked a defining era in REM's development. With each album the band became brasher and louder. Life's Rich Pageant's environmental eulogy with tracks like Cuyahoga showed an assured poise while Document, which spawned the band's first US Top 10 hit with One I Love, was the band's most political album to date. The song Exhuming McCarthy was an attack on the Regan era while It's The End Of The World as We Know it was a party song with a message.

By the time of Green's release the band had become a major act and were signed to Warners for a small fortune. The Stand single gave them their biggest hit to date while World Leader Pretend was a perfect example of the band's ability to create subtle, intelligent songs that were still hummable. Green's success meant the band would spend the next two years touring - with Stipe playing the anti-hero on stage, dressed in a white suit, inch-thick eyeliner, wailing into megaphones and dancing manically. Stipe also raised his profile by initiating a series of public service TV info-mercials on Aids, abortion and


1991's Out Of Time album would become a multi-million seller, representing the band both at their most bankable and

personal on the singles Losing My Religion and Shiny Happy People. 1992's follow up Automatic For The People was a moodier

masterpiece. Stipe had been dogged by rumours that he was suffering from Aids and the downbeat nature of the songs comes from

Stipe's plaintive voice tapping into the listener%u2019s angst. There was a lucid beauty to tracks like Night Swimming and

Man On The Moon (written about tragi-comic actor Andy Kaufman) that wormed their way into your subconscious.

Follow up Monster in 1994 was a grunge-inflected, rock album - the best songs, the singles What's The Frequency Kenneth

and Crush With Eyeliner, struck the right balance between noise and melody but otherwise it was a mixed album, with Stipe

seemingly having ditched his obsession with death for a healthy interest in sex and brighter images. The subsequent tour (the

band's first since the late 80s) came to a premature halt when drummer Bill Berry suffered a brain haemmhorage.

After a successful recovery, the band regrouped and re-signed to Warners for the largest recording contract advance in

history: $80m for a five-album deal. The first fruits of the deal was 1996's New Adventures In Hi-Fi album. The LP would be

the band's last with Berry who would later leave to spend his time looking after his farm.Written mainly on the road the

album was a return to more familiar REM territory ranging from the cool, understated calm of How The West Was Won and the

moody single, E-Bow The Letter, featuring Patti Smith.

1998's Up album was the band's most pensive and melancholy set for years. Introduced by the single, Daysleeper, a UK Top

10 hit, and the brooding Lotus and At My Most Beautiful the band also utilised Leonard Cohen lyrics for the track, Hope.

In 1999 the band recorded the soundtrack for the Andy Kaufman biopic Man On The Moon starring Jim Carrey before going back

into the studio to prepare for the release of 2001's Reveal album. The album attempted to marry their classic songcraft with

more experimentalism. Summery abandon mixes with mid-life crisis moments on Summer Turns To High, I'll Take The Rain and the

album's melancholy but beautiful single, All The Way To Reno.

In 2001 the normally shy and retiring guitarist Peter Buck was arrested after allegedly harassing and abusing staff on a

BA flight. He was subsequently acquitted but he later described the attendant press coverage and media circus as "the worst

year of my life."

The band's new album, Around The Sun, is out in October 2004 with with Stipe describing it as "very experimental and

schizophrenic." A new single, Leaving New York, is also released in October. The band will be undertaking a World tour in

2005, a chance for the band to reconnect with their audience. "We want to show people where we are now and how we're

feeling," says Stipe.