After losing a couple founding members of the group and revamping the ornately arranged chamber pop sound of its early records in favor of something more simple, the 1900s' second full-length could have been a disaster. Instead, Return of the Century is their most impressive record and shows that they were able to turn personal and professional turmoil into a work with great artistic merit. The album is loosely based around the tale of Christina “Licorice” McKechnie, who was a member of the Incredible String Band and after a rather tumultuous stretch of living, disappeared without a trace. The songs have a suitably mysterious quality, revolving around themes of loss, escape, and heartache but never becoming too narrative. You don’t really need to know the underlying concept to be drawn into the mood the songs create. The minor chords, subdued arrangements, and unobtrusive production also help take care of that. Based mostly around guitars, bass, and drums with subtle keys and violin filling and softening the edges, it’s a quiet record made for introspection and quiet moments that never makes much of a fuss even when the tempo gets quick. There’s a very 1970s feel to the sound the band gets, organic and rich with lots of space and warmth in the sound. The vocals also take a very classic approach as the three singers in the band trade off leads and blend together in magical harmonies; it’s not only because of the 1900s' history of romantic entanglement that they could be compared to Fleetwood Mac. As with that band, the 1900s have a tender and honest quality that makes it easy (and rewarding) to embrace their music. There may not be any chart-topping hits on Return, and the record won’t sell millions of copies, but you could play it back to back with Rumours and it would make total sense. There aren’t too many bands in 2010 you can say that about.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra