Is R.E.M. officially a nostalgia act? The two-decade-old band announced Thursday that its first tour in four years will coincide with the Sept. 30 release of a greatest-hits package covering the group's last 15 years (all their work since 1988, when the band signed with Warner and released ''Green''), USA Today reports. The tour begins in Europe this summer, and the North American leg covers 26 dates, from Sept. 1 in Seattle to Oct. 11 in Atlanta. Wilco, Ed Harcourt, and Sparklehorse will alternate as opening acts. A schedule of dates is available on R.E.M.'s website.
Not that the band is content to rest on its laurels. Frontman Michael Stipe tells USA Today that the trio has been recording an album of new material for release in 2004. ''We've completed a good album, but we're going for great,'' he says of the delay. He says much of the new music, like the antiwar song ''The Final Straw,'' available now for downloading at the band's website, is ''very political and very angry'' material inspired by current events. ''We're definitely addressing things about the current regime that bother us,'' says bassist Mike Mills. ''We got away from speaking as a band politically, but the time has come to unite voices.''