While it's disconcerting to see the Beastie Boys sporting gray hair and serious wrinkles around the edges of those familiar sardonic grins -- it's hard to believe Adam Yauch (MCA), Mike Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Adrock) are all pushing 40 --it's reassuring to hear them kickin' it as hard as they do on their first new offering in six years.

"Old school" is the pronouncement most fans are tossing around, and indeed, these three middle-age gents are still trading fluid rhymes with more lustful energy and youthful enthusiasm than most 20-year-olds. Their wildly imaginative and insanely infectious genre-hopping backing tracks also remain a creative high point on the hip-hop soundscape, even if they are no longer quite as fresh as they were on the collective's 1989 masterpiece, "Paul's Boutique." But these are not exactly the Beasties of yore.

The core is at its best when it's being stupid and carefree. On tracks such as "Oh Word?" and "All Life Styles," they riff on the joys of livin' large and revel in the inanities of pop culture, referencing everything from Ernest Shackleton's failed polar expedition to Mr. Furley, the landlord on "Three's Company." The sexism of the "Fight for Your Right to Party" days is thankfully missing -- we can thank their embrace of Buddhist teachings for something -- but like Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising," "To the 5 Boroughs" is also partly a (insert groan here) response to 9/11.

When the Beasties are simply professing their love for New York City's resiliency, as on the anthemic choruses of "An Open Letter to NYC," they hit their mark. But when they try to offer a more "mature" political critique of American imperialism and the best they can come up with is "George W.'s got nothing on we / We got to take the power from he," you once again feeling like telling the obnoxious louts to shut up and go play in traffic.