When David Lee Roth left Van Halen in 1985, Sammy Hagar seemed like a logical replacement because of his past engagements as lead singer of Montrose, and a moderately successful solo career. But while the Roth vs. Hagar debate may never be resolved, this reviewer personally thinks Van Halen descended into an AOR rut when Hagar joined. They occasionally created some rocking tunes, but it was the power ballads that became the hits, and because of that Van Halen lost touch with their past as credible rockers, something they’re still trying to recapture even after they gave Hagar his walking papers in 1996. Meanwhile, Hagar re-started his solo career after leaving Van Halen, and surprisingly sounded rejuvenated on MARCHING TO MARS (1997) and RED VOODOO (1999). Both those albums recaptured the rock & roll soul that hadn’t been around almost since his days with Montrose, and Hagar’s latest TEN 13 shows that even as he’s entered his half-century of life, he’s still got a lot of rocking to do. Named after his birthday, TEN 13 is the album that Van Halen should have recorded in the wake of Hagar’s departure, not the overblown VAN HALEN III. While those album’s songs seemed to drag on without getting anywhere, TEN 13 contains tunes that know where to begin and end. Songs like “Shaka Doobie”, “The Real Deal” and “Little Bit More” clock in at just over 3 minutes, and even though these are pretty much lesser songs on here, we’re not indundated with solo after solo, thank God. But the songs that showcase a Hagar acting half his age are the most memorable ones. The AC/DC-sounding “Let Sally Drive”, the everyday’s-a-holiday title track (love the sound of a newborn baby at the beginning), and the epic closer “Tropic Of Capricorn”. The timing on the latter is a bit off. The real song ends at 4:31, but after a few seconds of silence, we have an acoustic guitar outro that brings this rocker of an album to an alternately appropriate and idiosyncratic end. For those who fell in love with Van Halen after Hagar joined, TEN 13 has its share of love songs, but they don’t fall into sappy mush like they did with Van Halen. “Deeper Kinda Love” and “The Message” have a muscular sound to them while still sounding sincere. Had AC/DC bit the bullet and recorded a power ballad, this is how they’d sound most likely. While Van Halen searches for yet another lead singer, Sammy Hagar is probably the most successful alumnus from that revolving door of a group. Then again, he had already had a career while Van Halen was still in the bars. But whereas David Lee Roth has pretty much been without a career since his departure from VH, Hagar took the good riddance gesture as a chance to revitalize himself. And his recent albums have proven Sammy’s only just begun to let loose, and if he still creates works on the level of TEN 13, he’s almost guaranteed to outlast his former employers.