For much of the last two decades, Coldplay has shaped and redefined modern rock and pop trends not just in the U.S. and their native U.K., but around the world.

Still, global domination wasn't likely on the minds of the quartet—vocalist/pianist Chris Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion—when it started playing together in the late '90s, while its members were still attending university. However, after a few EPs gathered buzz, Coldplay inked a major label deal and immediately found an audience (and chart success) with the single "Yellow," an easygoing, mid-tempo rock song tinted with folk flourishes.

From these humble beginnings, Coldplay bloomed into a rock band that wasn't afraid to tackle new collaborators, modern sounds and uncomfortable genres. That's led to plenty of interesting detours—among them the electro-crunched Royksopp Trembling Heart remix of "Clocks" and the music box-reminiscent Four Tet remix of "Fix You"—and a catalog where commercial success often paralleled creative ambition. Still, the formula for Coldplay's success is rather simple: Take the sincerity of U2 and add it to Muse's big ideas and Radiohead's penchant for sonic evolution.

Our ranking of Coldplay's seven studio albums reflects how those experiments—made once they had firmly established themselves—have wound up being their best efforts, while the times that they've played it safe have been their least rewarding listens. It's a good lesson for any up-and-coming band struggling with the same dilemma. Click the above gallery to begin.