I agree completely that most of the general public didn't even realize they were still an active band. Hence why I truly believe they made the right decision to call it quits with the ending of their WB contract.
I actually wish more bands who have been around waaaaaay too long would do the same thing, and I'm starting to wonder if maybe R.E.M. will start a bit of a trend. I am seriously waiting to see if others "call it a day" as well in the next fews years.
(I know it's because of Kim and Thurston separating, but word is Sonic Youth are splitting...another band that 99% of the public either have never heard of or didn't know they were even still together...)
I have a friend that keeps up with music that also had no idea they were still active. Hearing it from him, I didn't take it as an insult, whereas I think some of the online commentary (especially from the anonymous contingent) was meant to be inflammatory. Same for those that thought they should have quit after insert album here. As for the public being unaware of them still playing and recording together, I really don't think that's a sign that they should hang it up. Even though their peak of popularity was probably back when "Losing My Religion" went worldwide, there's always been a certain portion of the population that's been out of touch with R.E.M. I do agree though that it was time for them to hang it up. That's not because I'm unhappy with their latest work, I just think they picked a good time, if ever there was going to be one, to call it quits. Watching that clip of them doing "Country Feedback" with Neil Young at the Bridge School Benefit in '98 sure doesn't make it any easier.