Nothing Safe: The Best Of The Box

Alice In Chains

Columbia, 1999

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


We here at the Vault rarely review hits collections, although they are some of the easiest reviews to write because there is very little to be said about them. Most reviews tend to be the same: glowing, with a minor note about a missing song or two. In rare cases a collection gets it wrong (Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits from 1978 being a prime example), but usually you can’t mess up a best of.

However, such reviews are important when the artist in question has a multitude of compilations on the market. The two-disc Essential is good for those who want to learn pretty much all they need to know about the band, but for a one-disc lineup of the best Alice in Chains - which is to say, some of the best music of the ‘90s - should pick up Nothing Safe.

Released in advance of the Music Box box set, Nothing Safe purports to be the “best of the box,” but since the box is pretty much all studio tracks, this is simply a best of, period. The box featured a handful of unreleased songs and alternate versions, two of which are present here: the downcast “Get Born Again” and the superior demo version of “We Die Young.” my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The latter is so much better than what ended up on Facelift that one wonders why the band shelved it for so long; a great song to begin with, this demo version ratchets up the volume and the intensity in Jerry Cantrell’s riffs and Layne Staley’s vocals, and the rhythm section is crisp and quick, creating a bruising masterpiece in two and a half minutes.

Each successive song is a knockout, from the heavy churn of “Man In The Box” to the monster riffs of “Them Bones” to the pensive drug ballad “Down In A Hole.” The neo-psychedelic metal of “Angry Chair” shares space with the unplugged (and superior) version of “Got Me Wrong,” while a live version of “Rooster” is just as epic and wounded as the studio version. Note: That version is only available here, not on the box or any other live recordings.

Although they are mainly remembered for the guitar grind and the metal workouts, the band had a softer side and a songwriting depth, which is manifested here in “No Excuses,” “I Stay Away” (never a great song, but necessary) and “Got Me Wrong.” The aptly-named “Grind” and “Again,” two of the better songs off the band’s eponymous LP (and final studio disc with Staley) are present. The release closes with “Would?,” far and away the band’s best song, a dark and harrowing masterpiece about drug abuse and self-loathing and Staley’s finest moment on record.

The beauty of Nothing Safe is that nothing is missing and everything present is simply fantastic. The songs chosen are all highlights that showcase the band’s range and power. Those who wish to nitpick may wish the studio version of “Rooster” was here, or wonder if “Get Born Again” could have been swapped for a more exciting unreleased song, but those are very minor complaints. Plus, the presence of the soundtrack-only “What The Hell Have I” is welcome, even if it isn’t quite up to the level of quality of the rest of the music.

Alice In Chains was one of the best bands of the decade and Nothing Safe captures them perfectly. Those who have caught the newer stuff or one of the classics on rock radio and are curious would do well to start here, as would casual fans who want the biggest and pretty much the best songs in one place.

Rating: A

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