Axl Rose ended one of the most agonizing waiting periods in rock history when his handpicked Guns N' Roses lineup released Chinese Democracy on Nov. 23, 2008.

Commercial and critical reception were mixed upon its release. The album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, below Kanye West and Taylor Swift, selling 261,000 copies its first week. Publications such as Rolling Stone and the A.V. Club issued rave reviews, but many longtime (and long-suffering) GNR fans lamented the band's dramatic stylistic shift from its Slash-assisted glory days.

Regardless of one's opinion of Chinese Democracy's musical merits, one thing is indisputable: The album is long. Rose indulges every musical whim on the 71-minute LP, from arena rock to industrial metal to weepy balladry, resulting in some inevitable bloat. The bombastic ballads and hard-rock epics are the sonic equivalent of chocolate cake: rich and decadent but stupefying in large quantities.

In the interest of brevity and a balanced musical diet, we've enlisted UCR's 45-Minute Police to, um, slash 26 minutes from Chinese Democracy. Read on to see how six writers would restructure Rose's tortured opus.

Gary Graff: It was nice to go back all these years later and actually have some difficulty shaving this down to vinyl-album length — and to confirm that it was not the train wreck that could easily have resulted from a decade in the making, with so many hands on the wheel and so many millions of dollars spent in the production. There's still no mistaking it for Appetite For Destruction or either of the Use Your Illusion sets, but its sprawling, indulgent insanity is maybe even more fun to hear now than it was at the time. The first three tracks hold up particularly well, and the industrial flavors that Axl Rose and company incorporated provide a clear line of demarcation between new and "classic" GNR lineups. The cast-offs are mostly those tracks where Rose fails to get out of his own way, especially "Madagascar" and "I.R.S.," and judicious editing gives Chinese Democracy a greater cohesiveness that may have been to its benefit 13 years ago.

1. "Chinese Democracy"
2. "Shackler's Revenge"
3. "Better"
4. "There Was a Time"
5. "Catcher in the Rye"
6. "Street of Dreams"
7. "Sorry"
8. "Prostitute"

Leave Out: "If the World," "Scraped," "Riad N' the Bedouins," "I.R.S.," "Madagascar," "This I Love"

 

Matthew Wilkening: Chinese Democracy is an Axl Rose solo album in all but name and one with more high points than people might remember. Since nobody else from the classic Guns N' Roses lineup is participating, we're better off emphasizing Rose's most unique and boundary-pushing material, as opposed to the songs that revisit familiar GNR territory. In nearly every case this yields the strongest songs anyway; the first seven of these eight choices were easy. I'm still not positive "Catcher in the Rye" is actually better than "Street of Dreams," "I.R.S." or "There Was a Time," but since there was only one spot left, we might as well stick with the weirder stuff.

1. "Chinese Democracy"
2. "Better"
3. "If the World"
4. "Catcher in the Rye"
5. "Sorry"
6. "Madagascar"
7. "This I Love"
8. "Prostitute"

Leave Out: "Shackler's Revenge," "Street of Dreams," "There Was a Time," "Scraped," "Riad N' the Bedouins," "I.R.S."

Listen to Guns N' Roses' 'Sorry'

 

Matt Wardlaw: Chinese Democracy is possibly the most misunderstood album in the Guns N’ Roses catalog. When it was first released, I was lukewarm on the whole thing. But as the years have passed, the album (and subsequent live shows) have revealed that there’s actually a lot of good to be found in the track listing. That’s what made trimming it a difficult proposition. I stuck close to the material that sounded most like Guns N’ Roses in a lot of cases, although there’s still plenty of weird. The industrial "Shackler’s Revenge" wastes no time in pushing the boat further from the dock, arriving as the second song on the album. “Riad N’ the Bedouins” could be improved by stripping away the unnecessarily lengthy intro but ultimately reveals itself as a classic GNR rocker that finds Rose at his venomous best. After some cuts - and I mostly retained the original running order - what’s left is an album that feels more focused while still feeling like an eclectic and ultimately satisfying musical journey.

1. "Chinese Democracy"
2. "Shackler's Revenge"
3. "Riad N’ the Bedouins"
4. "Street of Dreams"
5. "There Was a Time"
6. "Catcher in the Rye"
7. "Sorry"
8. "This I Love"

Leave Out: "Better," "If the World," "Scraped," "I.R.S.," "Madagascar," "Prostitute"

 

Bryan RolliOne of my foundational music memories is walking into Best Buy to pick up a copy of Chinese Democracy on release day. I had spent years prowling file-sharing websites (or, more accurately, getting my best friend to do it for me so I wouldn't infect my family's computer) and obsessing over leaked demos and live cuts, and I was ecstatic to finally get my hands on the finished product. Judging by the dozens, maybe hundreds, of Chinese Democracy CDs lining the Best Buy racks that afternoon, I was evidently in the minority. In hindsight, I can see why a lot of GNR fans didn't share my zeal. The die-hard in me will defend every song on Chinese Democracy till I'm blue in the face, but the critic in me knows a lot of these could have been left on the cutting-room floor (or saved for the album's fabled sequels). The most obvious deletions were the flamenco-tinged lounge act "If the World" and the pedestrian funk-rocker "Scraped," whose vocal skip at the 1:19 mark is the album's definitive lowlight. "Catcher in the Rye" is an overlong Elton John pastiche that Axl Rose already accomplished better on "Street of Dreams." “Riad N' the Bedouins” and “Shackler’s Revenge” are tough, catchy rockers that I simply couldn’t afford to keep. And while I respect “This I Love” as the product of Rose's singular creative vision, it’s just too slow and maudlin for the Chinese Democracy redux. The new, truncated album is a tight, balanced highlight reel that shows the breadth of Rose’s songwriting. I’ve tweaked the sequencing to make Side A and B more symmetrical, each starting with a brisk rocker and closing with a cathartic epic. If Guns N’ Roses never release another album, Chinese Democracy serves as a fitting curtain call and has more than enough material to cement Rose’s genius.

1. "Chinese Democracy"
2. "Better"
3. "Street of Dreams"
4. "There Was a Time"
5. "I.R.S."
6. "Sorry"
7. "Madagascar"
8. "Prostitute"

Leave Out: "Shackler's Revenge," "If the World," "Catcher in the Rye," "Scraped," "Riad N' the Bedouins," "This I Love"

Hear Guns N' Roses' 'Riad N' the Bedouins'

 

Matt Wake: You don’t see many people wearing Chinese Democracy shirts, even in a stadium crammed with Guns N’ Roses fans. There are many reasons for this. One of those reasons directly relates to our theme of editing Chinese. Because what would be way more effective than cutting the album to 45 minutes is deleting 45 minutes of the production gimmicks, which are a huge reason many fans don’t connect - particularly the meandering intros, relevancy-thirsty electronic filigree and dated industrial sounds. Scrape that off and Chinese is an excellent hard-rock album with more consistent songwriting than the Use Your Illusion LPs and with some of Axl Rose’s most soul-bearing vocals, lyrics and melodies. Since a “naked mix” of Chinese isn’t on the table today, I’m chopping tracks most adversely affected by the production: So ciao, “Shackler’s Revenge,” “Madagascar” and “If the World,” all good tunes underneath the studio goo. And sorry, “Sorry” should’ve been an email written to Steven Adler then deleted before sending - it's not a song, so it gets cut, too. I’m keeping the title track. But the pre-guitar intro gets ixnayed, giving the album a more immediate nose punch befitting a great, dangerous frontman’s return. That and most other songs I kept sound more “evolved GNR” than a Rose solo record. “Better,” “Street of Dreams,” “Scraped,” “I.R.S.” and “Catcher in the Rye” all drip with bluesy feel, streetwise hooks and Rose’s mic-melting catharsis. Yeah, there’s sucky production on “There Was a Time,” “This I Love” and “Riad N’ the Bedouins,” but those songs are too brilliant to get “yellow-jacketed” to nowhere.

1. “Chinese Democracy” (minus the 60-second intro)
2. “Better”
3. “I.R.S.”
4. “Street of Dreams”
5. “Riad N’ the Bedouins”
6. “Catcher in the Rye”
7. “This I Love”
8. “Scraped”
9. “There Was a Time”

Leave Out: “Shackler’s Revenge,” “If the World,” “Sorry,” "Madagascar," "Prostitute"

 

Michael Christopher: Forget all the theorizing and criticisms about the length of time, countless number of musicians involved and overall punchline in terms of bloated excess Chinese Democracy has become. It’s still a really good album. Was it worth the 17-year wait? Does it stand up to Guns' previous offerings of original material? No, on both counts. But there are still some gems worthy of the band’s legacy, just as there's enough fat to warrant some removals. For purposes of enforcing the 45-minute rule, I can’t get into the minutiae of clipping some of the more meandering intros to songs like “Riad N' the Bedouins” and the title track, so it's off with other full songs. The easiest excision is “Prostitute,” one of the longest on Chinese Democracy and a song that goes nowhere interesting during its six minutes. And despite the excitement over the classic lineup of GNR breaking it out live, I’ll never understand all the love for “Sorry.” It gets harder from there, though. Even though there's some legitimate, eyebrow-raising guitar shredding on “Scraped,” it has to fall by the wayside, and “If the World” overstays its welcome. Removing “This I Love,” on the other hand, actually pained me but brought it down to nine songs clocking in at a lean 44 minutes and 53 seconds. There was also some juggling of the track listing. Opening with the industrial double whammy of “Shackler’s Revenge” and “Better” results in a more immediate impact before slowing things down with “Catcher in the Rye.” The centerpiece is the brilliant epic “Madagascar,” and ending with another one-two punch of the rocking "Riad N' the Bedouins" and “Chinese Democracy” leaves listeners with hope for what comes next. "Absurd" as that may be.

1. "Shackler's Revenge"
2. "Better"
3. "Catcher in the Rye"
4. "Street Of Dreams"
5. "Madagascar"
6. "There Was a Time"
7. "I.R.S."
8. "Riad N' the Bedouins"
9. "Chinese Democracy"

Leave out: “If the World,” “Scraped,” "Sorry," "This I Love," "Prostitute"

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