R.E.M's Michael Stipe is pictured performing at the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, on March 12. The band's latest album can be streamed for free on the iLike social networking site. ((Jack Plunkett/Associated Press))

The American rock band R.E.M. has released all the songs on its new album for free streaming online this week, becoming the first major band to do so on a social networking site.

Starting Monday and ending March 26, R.E.M.'s new 11-song album Accelerate is available for free streaming on iLike, a social networking website for sharing music. 

Since iLike's plug-in is also used on other social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace, the album can be heard by a much wider audience.

The official retail CD release of Accelerate is April 1.

"It seemed like a good [idea], so we ran for it," R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe told

Stipe said the band from Athens, Ga., wanted to experiment with how it distributed its music and saw just how much the recording landscape had changed over the past five years.

"I think you can either go with it or sit back and watch it happen," Stipe said.

British band Radiohead triggered the online trend last year when it allowed fans to download its recent album In Rainbows from the band's website at whatever price they wanted to pay for it. Many people paid little or nothing.

Fellow British band The Charlatan's latest album, You Cross My Path, also had a free downloading launch earlier this year.

The online method of releasing records does not seem to have prevented advance copies of the albums from being leaked on the Internet ahead of even the online release date. R.E.M.'s new album was available for download on torrent-based websites weeks ago.