Review: Punky, Propulsive, Psychedelic Pop? Olivia Jean Delivers That and More on ‘Raving Ghost’

Olivia Jean
Raving Ghost
(Third Man)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Those looking for a concise summation of what singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Olivia Jean is about need just push play on her roaring 2 ½ minute version of “Orinoco Flow.” She inhales Enya’s atmospheric/hypnotic 1988 new age staple of elevators and dentist offices everywhere, feeds it through her distinctive garage/punk/surf mindset, and exhales a party-ready slice of rocking that might have existing fans of the tune plugging their ears. You’ve gotta believe that husband Jack White, whose Third Man label has housed all of Jean’s releases, is giving a big thumbs-up.

Her third solo album, the first since 2019, continues a musical trajectory mashing early Blondie with the Go-Go’s, The Raconteurs, and sure, the White Stripes, into a rootsy rave-up, one that shoots diverse stylistic arrows from her punky/psychedelic quiver over its tight 38 minutes. To help create this somewhat retro vision, members of My Morning Jacket, Jellyfish, and T-Bone Burnett’s band bring their energy to the recording.

She adds to her already eclectic inspirations with Black Sabbath-influenced guitar doom on “Spider,” a skulking rocker along the lines of vintage Alice Cooper. Elements of that more forceful approach also appear on the opening title track, enhanced by an ominous video, heavy on the deep purple lights. It finds our heroine haunted by shadowy spirits she spooks with a raw, intense guitar solo while singing The scratch that crawls across my neck is starting to give me the chills/I slip slowly into a trance and suddenly a void’s been filled. Creepy.

But the upbeat surfy power pop that has been her go-to dominates with the thumping drums and power chords of “I Need You,” the squiggly keyboards and muscular grind of the jittery, Cars-infused “Too Late” and Ventures meets The Cramps psycho-garage “Ditch.” There’s kinetic electricity when Jean recites the lyrics of “Fun” over a taut lick that wouldn’t be out of place on an Iggy Pop album. The initial single, “Trouble,” kicks in with White’s trademarked riffage for one of this disc’s most potent moments. She even gets bluesy on “Don’t Leave,” closing the set on a more meditative note.  

Jean’s vocals are on the thin side, especially for music that punches and pounds like the majority of these tracks. But she delivers her often dark-edged lyrics with the louche, ice-queen nonchalance of Debbie Harry and Belinda Carlisle which suits this snaking vibe.

She’s tough, and talented and attacks her songs with a suggestive swagger that grabs you and won’t let go.

Hang on for the ride.

Photo by Jada & David Parrish

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