Boston's sixth album, 'Life, Love & Hope,' is a rather frustrating, confusing affair.

There are still moments -- like on the chorus of the album-opening 'Heaven on Earth' -- when the band's trademark formula clicks into place with a perfectly infectious chorus and that famous Tom Scholz guitar tone. But that buzz rarely lasts for an entire song, and far too often what turns up instead is highly generic pop-rock filler.

Obviously, part of the problem is that Scholz is trapped by his past success. He's clearly trying to explore more diverse (and often more mellow) textures with songs like the '80s synth-rock referencing 'Sail Away' or the harmonica-powered 'Someday.' But it's impossible not to compare these new wrinkles to the unimpeachable template he built on the group's first few records.

And it's not just the style that suffers by this measure, it's the songwriting, the overly simplistic lyrics and even the production, which used to be the group's calling card. Here the drums sound positively tinny, and the often unremarkable vocals -- provided by a rotating cast of singers, including the late Brad Delp -- are frequently too high in the mix, further burying those (still wonderful) guitars.

Another problem is the scattered, unfocused nature of the record. The vocals-by-committee approach obviously contributes to this, as does the fact that several tracks on 'Life, Love & Hope' are reworked or remastered versions of songs from the group's 2002 'Corporate America' album. But even accounting for that, the record takes some jarring left turns, like the pace-sapping organ part that appears halfway through 'Didn't Mean to Fall in Love' or the overly dramatic political rap (complete with helicopter sound effects!) that opens 'Sail Away.'

You're not supposed to judge an album by its cover, but compared to 'Boston' and 'Don't Look Back''s scenes of escape and exploration, the 'Life, Love & Hope' artwork does rather effectively portray the image of a band that seems somewhat aimless and adrift at the moment.

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