What differentiated the Cure from other predecessors, like the Glam-rockers of early 70s England, was that an implicit ideology informed their moves. It involved not only an embrace of deviance (often manifested as extreme androgyny for guys) but a rejection of any and every manifestation of positivism. Yet the darkness was cartoon darkness; no coherent set of political beliefs backed it up. What’s intriguing is why the goods and services offered by the Cure were required— what social need were they responding to? Clearly, Western adolescents were dissatisfied; and if a bulk quantity of them wanted darkness, it had to have been because they felt “dark things” that they didn’t know how to express. In America, Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” couldn’t change the fact that divorce rates were going way up; more and more children had to live through family breakage. Kids put through divorces can feel their innocence taken away at young ages; because they’re often subject to being used as pawns, they’re made to feel the darkness and bitterness of adult conflict. That’s one reason many might’ve been drawn to the Cure’s dark vision.
Other reasons are simpler— the Cure appealed to adolescents’ sense of drama, theater, and exploration of identities. To plug into the Cure Army in a profound way was to receive a new identity— one readymade and sharply defined. Massive as they were, the Beatles, Stones, and Dylan didn’t really offer this; nor did Zeppelin or Kiss. The Cure “package deal” was uniquely comprehensive, its own subculture. Its not that the music wasn’t also unique— the Cure liked to create ambient, dusky musical landscapes over which Robert Smith would intone his “tormented” lyrics (though Smith was canny enough to craft the occasional pop gem, guaranteeing some radio and media exposure). The music functioned as a wedge into the lifestyle. That lifestyle involved drugs— sometimes soft, sometimes hard. For the Cure Army, loss of innocence was often accompanied by loss of restraint. Most of the momentum of this phenomenon happened in a vacuum— it escaped general notice— as did, arguably, the notion that children of broken homes suffered damage that could compel them to choose darkness over light, and intoxication over continence.
It’s also worth noting that entrance into and then out of the Cure Army was de rigueur— it was a place that could be gone through and then come out of. Whether or not the Cure’s music is compelling enough to have any enduring value is another question. I’d say it’s a maybe. But, specifically from the 80s into the 90s, no one in rock music signified more socially than the Cure, even if pundits and aficionados could only give them backhanded credit. To the extent that rock music has not been the subject of much sociological discourse, instances like the popularity of the Cure and their brand of cultural signage could be a reason for discourse to begin. Sociologists like big pictures and numbers; rock music certain satisfies these imperatives. Especially because now there are a sufficient number of rock fans among intellectuals, and the cultural image of rock music is not overwhelmingly déclassé.